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Nor'easter forming off the East Coast predicted to bring blizzard conditions

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Mother Nature wanted to give me one more gift," says outgoing Boston Mayor Thomas Menino
  • Nearly 100 million people are in the storm's path across more than 20 states, CNN meteorologist says
  • Long Island faces blizzard warning; NYC may get 10 inches of snow, subzero wind chills
  • In addition to strong winds, temperatures will sink below zero in many places

By Tom Watkins and Holly Yan

The new year is kicking off with a one-two weather punch -- a full-blown nor'easter, followed by the coldest air of the season that will last through at least the middle of next week.

The nor'easter, forming off the East Coast of the United States, is expected to bring blizzard conditions by Thursday night to Long Island and Cape Cod.

About a third of the nation -- 100 million people in 22 states -- is in the path of the storm, which is expected to be at its fiercest between 8 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m. Friday, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said.

A nor'easter, according to the National Weather Service, is "a cyclonic storm that moves along the east coast of North America. It's called 'nor'easter' because the winds over coastal areas blow from a northeasterly direction."

The complicated storm system "will raise havoc" this week, dumping a foot of snow and spreading subzero wind chills across parts of the region, the NWS said.

On top of the bone-chilling cold, much of Long Island, New York, will be under a blizzard warning from Thursday night to Friday afternoon.

"Falling and blowing snow with strong winds and poor visibilities are likely," the Weather Service said. "This will lead to whiteout conditions making travel extremely dangerous. Do not travel."

Across the country, the nasty weather has snarled travel plans for many. More than 1,700 flights have been canceled for Thursday, according to FlightAware.com, which tracks cancellations due to weather and mechanical problems.

Many airlines are allowing passengers to make fee-free itinerary changes for destinations expected to be affected by winter storms. Delta, American, US Airways, United, Southwest/AirTran and JetBlue have all posted weather advisories on their websites.

Here's a breakdown on what to expect where:

New York and Long Island

As of Wednesday night, New York City was under a winter storm warning, as were many other densely populated areas in seven other states.

The city of 8 million people could get 9 inches of snow, subzero wind chills and turbulent winds, forecasters said.

New York City is expecting to see six to 12 inches of snow overnight, with more possible on Long Island, where Nassau and Suffolk counties will be under a blizzard warning from 6 p.m. Thursday until 1 p.m. Friday, with predictions of 8 to 10 inches of snow, wind chills as low as 10 below zero and sustained winds of at least 35 mph.

Bitter cold will follow, with temperatures in the single digits by Saturday morning.

Upstate, the capital city of Albany could get buried under 14 inches of snow, with wind chills of 15 to 25 below zero, the National Weather Service said.

Massachusetts

By Friday night, Boston should be covered by 5 to 11 inches of snow -- with temperatures as low as 3 degrees below zero.

Citing likely "near blizzard" conditions Thursday night into late Friday morning, the state's emergency management agency warned that 1 to 2 feet of fluffy, drifting snow could accumulate in places and that there could be moderate coastal flooding.

The forecast was so bad for Beantown that the city canceled school for Friday two days in advance.

"I guess Mother Nature wanted to give me one more gift," Mayor Thomas Menino told reporters Thursday in one of his last days in the job he has held since 1993.

"Take precautions and take public transportation and take care of one another," he urged. But, he added, the city was doing its part, with 700 pieces of equipment on city streets. "Our team is ready," he said.

The combination of extreme cold, snow and strong winds had officials at homeless shelters preparing.

"Our main emphasis is getting people inside, where it is safer and warmer," said Jennifer Harris, a spokeswoman for the Pine Street Inn shelter system in Boston, where a snow emergency has been declared. "Pine Street Inn is making sure to have extra staff and food and water. We are geared up to provide to a greater number of people."

Blizzard warnings were issued for Cape Cod.

Connecticut

Wind chills in parts of Connecticut are expected to range from -5 to -20 degrees Thursday night and Friday; the National Weather Service issued winter storm warnings for most of the state through Friday morning.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy urged residents to take it slow and give themselves extra time for their commutes Thursday and Friday. "I am also asking that you avoid travel during the height of the storm Thursday night," he said in a prepared statement.

Extreme football weather

Much of the Midwest will get even colder in the coming days.

In Wisconsin, the Green Bay Packers will give a cold welcome to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, when temperatures could bottom out at -17.

But it will be relatively balmy Sunday in Cincinnati, where snow and rain are possible when the city's Bengals host the San Diego Chargers in another NFL playoff matchup.

Of course, while the players might not have a choice, fans don't have to brave the cold for either game. The big worries are for those who travel in the coming days. Authorities in New York, for example, say they may shut the Long Island Expressway if whiteout conditions make driving along the east-west highway too perilous.

Kevin Willims isn't taking any chances, nor is he predicting a world-ending storm. The New Yorker said that he plans to sit tight and let Mother Nature do her thing.

"There's not much you can do," Willims said. "When it's snowing and these streets lock up, there's really nowhere you can go, so it's best to just stay in."

Chicago

From 3 to 8 inches of snow were predicted to fall Thursday on Chicago, with more possible later in the week, said Gary Schenkel, executive director of the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

Though snow in Chicago in the winter is a common event, it "can still wreak havoc on daily routines," he noted.

More than 300 flights had been canceled by late Thursday morning at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, he said.

Next week could be no better for some U.S. residents.

A new shot of colder air will start to move into the northern Midwest by Saturday and will dive south Monday and Tuesday, carrying zero-degree cold as far south as Nashville. "That's the coldest air we've seen that far south in several years," said Hennen, the CNN meteorologist.

The cold air will kick off a new storm Sunday into Monday that could affect NFL games in interior sections of the Northeast, he said. Buffalo and Albany, New York, are likely to see snowfall, as will Pittsburgh, he predicted.

 

CNN's Marnie Hunter, Joe Sutton, Greg Botelho, Dave Hennen, Lorenzo Ferrigno and Dave Alsup contributed to this report.

 

The-CNN-Wire

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