HARTFORD, Conn. — Light snow was falling Thursday in parts of the Northeast, making commutes hazardous for the first work day of the new year and giving some students an extra day off school following Christmas break, as a winter storm promising significant snowfall, strong winds and frigid temperatures bore down.
Snow began falling overnight in parts of New England and New York, but the real brunt of the storm wasn't expected to hit until later Thursday. As much as a foot of snow or more was forecast for some areas overnight Thursday into Friday, and temperatures were expected to plummet, with some areas seeing highs just above zero, according to the National Weather Service.
"There will be travel problems," said Hugh Johnson, a weather service meteorologist in Albany, N.Y. "It will be very cold."
Up to 14 inches of snow is forecast for the Boston area and the National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for Long Island — where 8 to 10 inches of snow could fall and winds could gust up to 45 mph — from Thursday evening into Friday afternoon.
"We're going to see a lot of snow and a lot of wind," said Jason Tuell, director of the eastern region of the National Weather Service. "We're concerned about whiteout conditions possibly tonight with the blowing and drifting snow."
The wind chill will make it feel 10 degrees below zero or colder in some places, Tuell said.
Some schools in New England and New York closed pre-emptively or planned early dismissals, while cities issued parking bans and homeless shelters were expected to fill beyond capacity.
The storm dropped up to a foot of snow on parts of Michigan and 6 inches or more in Illinois, prompting hundreds of flight cancellations Wednesday into and out of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, according to the aviation tracking website FlightAware.com.
AAA Michigan says it received 500 calls by midmorning Thursday from drivers dealing with spinouts, cars in ditches and dead batteries. Accidents and delays were also reported in Ohio and Missouri.
"Anything below 25 degrees and the salt isn't nearly as effective," said Becky Allmeroth, maintenance engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation's St. Louis district, where crews were mixing chemicals and beet juice with salt to try and make roads passable. "Since the snow blows so easily and the temperatures are so cold, once it hits the roadway it freezes when it hits the surface."
In Maine, temperatures could plummet to minus-35 in the mountains Friday night, meteorologist John Cannon said. It's so cold that the Smiling Hill Farm cross-country ski area closed for the day on Thursday.
Authorities said the weather may have been a factor in a fatal crash Wednesday evening involving a pickup and a bus carrying casino patrons in Indiana. Police said the truck's driver was killed and 15 bus passengers were injured in the collision on a snow-covered and slushy highway in Rolling Prairie.
Sections of interior southern New England and New York could get up to a foot of snow by the time the storm moves out, with forecasts generally calling for 6 to 12 inches. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged the city's commuters to leave their cars at home in case major highways are closed for Thursday's evening rush hour.
An early morning dusting of snow gave some residents an idea of what was to come later as the storm headed toward the city.
"I guess it's kind of a preview," said Helmut Kugler, 54, as he gassed up his car at a Mobil station in the Bronx. "It's not snowing now, but they say it's coming hard."
The forecast was for up to 8 inches in the city by Friday. The weather service issued a winter storm warning for New York and its northern suburbs.
Although lesser amounts of snow were forecast to the south, Philadelphia and parts of southern New Jersey were expected to see 3 to 7 inches of blowing, drifting snow.
In Toms River, N.J., Jonas Caldwell said he was prepared for whatever the storm might bring
"Santa brought me a snow blower, and I've got rock salt for the ice, so now I'm just waiting for the storm," he said while grabbing a coffee at a convenience store.
Caldwell, an investment adviser, said he could work from home if necessary, but he was hoping that wouldn't be the case.
"There are too many distractions at home," he said. "But I won't be stupid ... If it gets as bad as they say it will be, or looks like it will, I'll be staying put."
In Hartford, Hal Guy, of nearby Glastonbury, was shopping for snow shovels — three, to be exact.
"We broke a couple in the last storm," he said. "We have four kids, so, three shovels, and we still have a little one back home."
Guy said three of his kids, girls ages 8, 10 and 12, have been out of school for two weeks for the holidays and hope to get a couple more days off with the snow.
Over in Maine, where some communities are still recovering from a recent ice storm that cut power to more than 100,000 customers, people seemed prepared for more winter weather.
Kelly St. Denis, of Auburn, went skiing Wednesday at the Sunday River ski area with family and friends. She said it's been cold but the skiing has been good.
"Hey, it's winter in Maine," she said. "We go with it."