By David Ariosto, CNN
NEW YORK (CNN) — Communities around New England looked like ghost towns Friday night — as streets that typically would be choked with traffic were quiet, except for whistling winds, and empty, except for a blanket of thick, sticky snow.
“Boston is kind of eerie at the moment,” said Chris Moran, a veteran snowplow driver doing his best to keep the roads clear. “People are off the streets, and it looks like it could be 3 o’clock in the morning.”
Tens of millions of people were in the blizzard’s path, and many more saw any hopes of getting anywhere squashed, thanks to thousands of flight cancellations affecting some 60 airports or government officials’ orders that drivers stay off the road.
Heavy bands dumped, at times, up to 3 inches of snow an hour in parts of the Northeast, a deluge that was expected to continue through Saturday morning, when some locales may have 2 feet or more on the ground
By 8 p.m. Friday, the storm — which is actually the convergence of two powerful systems — had already managed to dump more than 12 inches of snows in portions of Rhode Island, with significant snowfall reported elsewhere.
Strong winds made this storm especially biting. By 7 p.m., the National Weather Service reported wind gusts at around 60 mph from Nantucket to Boston’s Castle Island — not to mention a 71-mph gust in Buzzards Bay on Cape Cod.
There are concerns that those winds could whip up a mighty storm surge around 10 p.m., perhaps in places that months ago were ravaged by Superstorm Sandy.
For some, it all evoked memories of the “Blizzard of ’78” and the “Presidents Day Storm of 2003” — two of dozens of winter storms in Massachusetts that Moran has been out on the streets.
The Framingham resident bundled up to brave the bitter cold and clear snow off the roads. But with a storm this powerful, it sometimes seems like a losing battle.
“I just finished plowing a 40-car parking lot,” said Moran. “But if you were to look at it now, you never would have guessed. It’s completely covered.”
Alarms raised, events canceled ahead of the storm
Authorities have been sounding the alarm about the coming storm for days, urging people to stock up and stay off the roads. The worries were especially pronounced in places slammed by Sandy.
That late October storm tore through Nick Camerada’s Staten Island home, leaving him personally “destroyed” and cognizant that there may be more hits coming.
“You can’t mess with Mother Nature,” an emotional Camerada said.
Lines of customers snaked around storefronts as many braced for the worst.
When Reading, Massachusetts, resident Elizabeth Frazier arrived at a grocery store late Thursday night, shoppers were already buying up the store.
“It’s a zoo in there,” she said. “There’s nothing left on the shelves,” she told CNN affiliate WHDH.
Governors across New England and New York have declared states of emergency, and all cars and trucks — except emergency vehicles — must now be off Massachusetts and Connecticut roadways. A similar ban in Rhode Island took effect at 5 p.m.
Violating that ban could incur a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $500 fine.
By Friday night, the storm had already led to hundreds of cancellations of public school classes to sporting events. The storm even prompted the cancellation of ACT tests, for would-be college students, around the Northeast.
Train traffic also ground to a halt in places, in addition to air and road travel. Amtrak canceled many trips in the Northeast corridor. Some 6,000 Massachusetts National Guard members were put on storm duty as residents across the region stocked up on essential supplies.
Utility companies tried to get a head start on the storm, by having additional crews ready to respond to outages caused by downed power lines.
By 8:45 p.m., the storm had knocked out power to more than 130,000 customers — most in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut — according to information posted on utility websites.
The fear is that, as happened after Sandy, such outages could persist for days. Still, for all the alarms being raised, the mayor of Boston — which forecasters expected would be the city hardest hit by the storm — said he expected residents of his community and others to hunker down and weather the storm.
Said Mayor Thomas Menino, “We are hardy New Englanders.”
CNN’s Greg Botelho, Mary Snow, Steve Almasy, Larry Shaughnessy and Marina Carver contributed to this report.