Niko expected to hit Mass. with up to 20 inches of snow

February 9, 2017 GMT

Massachusetts must brace for an intensifying snowstorm this afternoon, Gov. Charlie Baker said, warning that some regions of the state could get as much as 20 inches of white stuff by the time the storm wraps up tonight.

“It’s important that everyone continue to monitor the storm. Visibility in many areas is down to a quarter-mile,” Baker said this afternoon from the bunker of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency in Framingham.Winter storm Niko first crept into western Massachusetts at 5 a.m., and by 9 p.m. should be headed out to sea.

“This is a large, but fairly typical annual event,” Baker said. “The fast-moving nature of this storm ... speaks to some extent to what we typically get out of a nor’easter.”

“We’re still in for a good thumping of snow,” said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Paul Walker. “We saw the warmest it’s going to be at 5 a.m., when it was 38 degrees. Temperatures are going to be falling throughout the day. It will be down in the teens by rush hour, but the winds are going to make it feel like single digits.”

As of 11:30 a.m., the storm had already dumped 9 inches of snow on the northwest town of Heath, but just 3 inches in Natick and lesser amounts in Worcester, Quincy and Topsfield.

Walker said the Hub has probably picked up an inch or two.

“That’s just the beginning of what we’re going to see,” he said, noting that the heaviest snowfall “won’t be a constant thing,” but rather, will occur in bursts.

The National Weather Service said much of the state will remain under a winter storm warning until 8 p.m., with 12 to 18 inches of blowing, drifting snow likely to fall at rates this afternoon of up to 3 inches per hour. Blizzard conditions will prevail on the South Shore, Cape Cod and the islands, where in addition to snow wind gusts of up to 65 mph could batter coastal communities. Coastal flooding has been reported in Scituate, Duxbury, Plymouth and Hingham.

Traffic has been light, both on the roads and on the MBTA, Baker and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said.

“For those people who do need to travel, we’re keeping things moving,” said Baker.

There have been some spinouts on the roads and a few thousand power outages, “which people are hustling to resolve,” Baker said.

He said state workers will work through the night to be “all systems go” for tomorrow’s morning commute.

The MBTA’s buses, subways and commuter rail are all operating on regular schedules with some delays, Pollack said. Shuttle buses are replacing the Mattapan Trolley and there are about 57 bus delays or snow route changes because of the snow in several places including downtown Boston, Charlestown, Cambridge, Lynn, Malden, Quincy and Melose.

There is reduced MBTA ferry service due to high seas, and extremely high winds and rough seas have forced the Steamship Authority to cancel ferry service to Nantucket for the remainder of the day. Service to Martha’s Vineyard is being determined on a trip-by-trip basis.

“We are confident that all the pieces are in place for the T to operate safely and reliably all the way through the storm - the new procedures, the new equipment and the upgraded infrastructure,” Pollack said. “When it’s winter in New England we should be able to tell people to take public transportation,”

The state Department of Transportation, which expected to have 4,000 pieces of snow removal equipment deployed at the height of the storm, is reporting wet- to slush-covered roadways, and is advising motorists avoid travel if possible.

Transportation officials say they have 250,000 tons of salt and 500,000 gallons of liquid deicer stockpiled for the storm.

The speed limit on the Massachusetts Turnpike from Boston to New York has been reduced to 40 mph, hundreds of school districts have closed, Boston emergency parking restrictions are in effect, trash collection is canceled in the city and non-essential state workers were told to stay home. Boston Public Schools are canceled tomorrow as well.

Logan International Airport remains open, but many flights have been canceled. As always, the state Port Authority advises travelers to check ahead.

In Boston, hundreds of public works trucks had already hit the road before dawn to treat streets.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh said this morning that Bostonians will not be permitted to “save” their shoveled-out on-street parking spaces until tomorrow at the earliest.

“There’s no saving spaces this morning,” Walsh said in a Fox 25 interview. “You can start saving spaces when you shovel out your car tomorrow.”

He urged Bostonians to take public transportation if possible, despite the slow start to the storm.

“We’re expecting a big storm in the city,” he said. “Leave your car at home and take public transportation if you can.”