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'Crippling' storm threatens to pound Northeast with up to 3 feet of snow

  • New Mexico State University students make their way to classes as a severe snow storm blankets the southern half of the state, Las Cruces, N.M., Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Las Cruces Sun-News, Jett Loe)

    New Mexico State University students make their way to classes as a severe snow storm blankets the southern half of the state, Las Cruces, N.M., Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Las Cruces Sun-News, Jett Loe)

  • FILE- This Jan. 8, 2014, file photo shows homes covered in snow and ice in Chicago. Meteorologists are confidently forecasting frigid polar air will plunge south into the northern plains, Midwest and then the East Coast from next Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, through Thursday. National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Kocin, an expert on winter storms, said it will rival last year's January Arctic outbreak that introduced the phrase "polar vortex" to America. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)

    FILE- This Jan. 8, 2014, file photo shows homes covered in snow and ice in Chicago. Meteorologists are confidently forecasting frigid polar air will plunge south into the northern plains, Midwest and then the East Coast from next Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, through Thursday. National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Kocin, an expert on winter storms, said it will rival last year's January Arctic outbreak that introduced the phrase "polar vortex" to America. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)

  • Icicles drip from the overhang of a picnic shelter at the Blacksburg Municipal "Hill" Golf Course  after a winter storm in Blacksburg, Va. on Saturday, Jan.  24 2015.  The National Weather Service has lifted a winter weather advisory for much of the Baltimore and Washington areas. But the advisory remains in effect until noon for western Maryland, western Virginia and points to the north.(AP Photo / The Roanoke Times, Matt Gentry)

    Icicles drip from the overhang of a picnic shelter at the Blacksburg Municipal "Hill" Golf Course after a winter storm in Blacksburg, Va. on Saturday, Jan. 24 2015. The National Weather Service has lifted a winter weather advisory for much of the Baltimore and Washington areas. But the advisory remains in effect until noon for western Maryland, western Virginia and points to the north.(AP Photo / The Roanoke Times, Matt Gentry)

Northeast residents are girding for a "crippling and potentially historic" storm that could bury communities from northern New Jersey to southern Maine in up to 3 feet of snow.

The National Weather Service said the nor'easter would bring heavy snow, powerful winds and widespread coastal flooding starting Monday and through Tuesday. A blizzard warning was issued for a 250-mile stretch of the Northeast, including New York and Boston.

The Monday morning commute was normal in much of the region, however officials were warning drivers that getting home might be difficult.

A section of Interstate 81 was closed Monday morning near Harrisburg after a tractor-trailer jack knifed and a truck hauling beer crashed into the median. There was no immediate information about possible injuries.

Some schools were planning to close early or not opening at all Monday in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

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Government officials began to activate emergency centers on Sunday as professional sports teams, schools and utilities hastily revised their schedules and made preparations.

"This could be a storm the likes of which we have never seen before," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference in a Manhattan sanitation garage where workers were preparing plows and salt for the massive cleanup on about 6,000 miles of city roadways.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker warned residents to prepare for roads that are "very hard, if not impossible, to navigate," power outages and possibly even a lack of public transportation.

Boston is expected to get 18 to 24 inches of snow, with up to 2 feet or more west of the city, and Philadelphia could see up to a foot, the weather service said.

The Washington area expected only a couple of inches, with steadily increasing amounts as the storm heads north.

"We do anticipate very heavy snowfall totals," said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the weather service in College Park, Maryland. "In addition to heavy snow, with blizzard warnings, there's a big threat of high, damaging winds, and that will be increasing Monday into Tuesday. A lot of blowing, drifting and such."

Wind gusts of 75 mph or more are possible for coastal areas of Massachusetts, and up to 50 mph further inland, Oravec said.

Airlines prepared to shut down operations along the East Coast, leading to the expected cancellation of about 1,700 flights scheduled for Monday, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware.

A storm system driving out of the Midwest brought several inches of snow to Ohio on Sunday. A new low pressure system was expected to form off the Carolina coast and ultimately spread from the nation's capital to Maine for a "crippling and potentially historic blizzard," the weather service said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged commuters to stay home on Monday and warned that mass transit and roadways could be closed before the evening rush hour, even major highways such as the New York Thruway, Interstate 84 and the Long Island Expressway.

In New York City, the Greater New York Taxi Association offered free cab service for emergency responders trying to get to work, and disabled and elderly residents who become stranded.

The New York Rangers decided to practice Monday afternoon at the Islanders' home arena on Long Island instead of at their own training facility just outside New York City. They'll stay overnight on Long Island for Tuesday's game against their rival — if it's still held.

The Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots expected to be out of town by the time the storm arrives in Boston. The team plans to leave Logan Airport at 12:30 p.m. Monday for Phoenix, where the temperature will reach the high 60s.

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