Thousand of flights canceled at NYC airports ahead of major storm

(CNN) — The Northeast is bracing for an onslaught of fast-falling snow, whipping winds and bitter cold, all starting with a full-blown nor’easter that bore down on the region Thursday evening.

The nor’easter, forming off the East Coast of the United States, prompted blizzard warnings from Thursday into Friday for New York’s Long Island, Cape Cod, Massachusetts’ South and North Shores, plus some communities along Maine’s coast. Boston, for example, was already getting buried by snow late Thursday afternoon.

“Mother Nature has come to wish us happy new year,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

About one-third of the nation, approximately 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, according to CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen.

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 National Weather Service warned.

“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 2,000 U.S. flights had been canceled as of 6 p.m. Thursday, reported FlightAware.com, which tracks cancellations due to weather and mechanical problems.

The most affected airport is Chicago’s O’Hare, with more than 650 cancellations in and out and about the same number of delays. Newark’s Liberty International Airport, New York’s LaGuardia and Cleveland’s Hopkins also are among the most affected.

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 of what to expect where:

New York and Long Island

As of Thursday afternoon, 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 6 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.

Cuomo declared a state of emergency for all of New York shortly after 3:45 p.m. Thursday, one of several steps taken to try to minimize the wild wintry weather’s toll.

Among them is shutting down parts of Interstate 84, an east-west highway that goes from Connecticut to Pennsylvania, to commercial vehicles late Thursday afternoon, with nearby I-87 south of Albany closing at midnight.

That’s the same time the Long Island Expressway — in a different part of the state — will close to traffic at the border between Nassau County and the Queens borough of New York. The hope is to reopen all these roads around 5 a.m., though that timing is very much subject to change.

“We’ll make sure no one is in a state of danger on those roads,” said Cuomo.

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