By STEPHEN SINGER, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A monster winter storm developed into a blizzard by the time it hit New England on Sunday, forcing travelers to change their post-Christmas plans and head home fast or be stranded by the region’s first snowstorm of the season.
Govs. Deval Patrick and John Baldacci declared states of emergency for Massachusetts and Maine,
Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell made preparations for the worst weather expected in years just 10 days before she’s set to retire and Rhode Island officials told motorists to stay off the roads.
Flights and regional trains were canceled across the region. Major airlines said they expected cancellations in Boston to continue at least into Monday morning.
Highway officials dispatched thousands of plows, sanders and salt trucks to clear the critical Interstate 95
Northeast corridor, state highways and local roads. Hours before the first snow fell, trucks were spreading chemical treatments on roadways to prevent icing.
“We are ready,” Patrick declared at a news conference at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
In Maine, Baldacci ordered all state offices except essential services to be closed on Monday.
The Northeast was getting the brunt of the storm, which was expected to dump between 1 foot and 16 inches in southern New England by the time it’s done Monday. The storm is the result of a low pressure system off the North Carolina coast that strengthened as it moved northeast, according to the National Weather Service.
At a gas station off an interstate highway in Manchester, Conn., Will Balsham said he worried he would have to cut short his family’s road trip from Philadelphia to see friends north of Boston.
“We’ve been trying to beat the weather. We’re losing,” said Balsham, 41. He said if the snow continued to accumulate on the highway, he would look for a hotel.
Rell offered state assistance to Connecticut towns and cities.
Peter Boynton, commissioner of the state Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said the governor spoke with more than 200 local emergency management and other officials on a teleconference Sunday afternoon. The heaviest snowfall was expected between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. Monday, he said.
“It remains to be seen if we get requests for assistance,” Boynton said.
State offices will be closed Monday for a furlough day, but Rell said state plow operators took their furlough day earlier in the year. As a result, the state’s 632 plow operators will be clearing roads.
Unlike Patrick, Rell, who leaves office Jan. 5, had not declared a state of emergency by Sunday evening.
“We briefed the governor on the forecast and state preparations and ongoing operations and she does not see a need for that at this point,” Boynton said. “She will make the decision if necessary.”
J. David Smith, executive director of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, asked residents to stay off highways after 4 p.m., saying driving conditions were “near impossible” because of quickly accumulating snow and high winds.
He said commuters were expected to face blizzard conditions on Monday morning.
Rollin Tebbetts, airport operations manager at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn., said the airport was open but numerous flights had been canceled. He said the airport was less busy than a typical day after Christmas when travelers are returning home.
“The airlines are doing well getting the word out,” he said.
Amtrak canceled train service between Boston and New York City at about 5 p.m., along with service between Boston and Portland, Maine.
Jeremy Rinzler, 37, left his parents’ house in Mystic, Conn., about four hours earlier than planned, picking up a Metro-North commuter train in Old Saybrook, Conn., that was headed for New York.
“I knew it was going to get worse and worse,” he said, as blowing, heavy snow came down in New Haven. “I had to get back,” said Rinzler, a physician’s assistant at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. “We have six surgeries scheduled tomorrow.”
Sam Zambuto, a spokesman for Metro-North and Long Island railroads, said the commuter trains operated on normal Sunday schedules but would run on reduced timetables Monday.
Several travelers were left standing in the aisle Sunday afternoon after a New York-bound commuter train quickly filled seats in New Haven, its first stop.
Personal trainer Michael Knowles, 42, cut his Christmas weekend hours short to avoid getting stranded by the storm, but checked his cell phone and found out he needn’t have bothered.
“All my clients canceled,” he said.
Massachusetts’ governor put the storm in context in a region used to harsh winters.
“If you stay alert and follow common sense we will get through this storm as we have many, many winters before,” Patrick said.
Associated Press writers Amy Westfeldt in New Haven, Conn., Michael Melia in Manchester, Conn., and Eric Tucker in Providence, R.I., contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)