HARTFORD, Conn. - Residents and emergency management officials in New England and parts of New York prepared on Wednesday for a winter storm predicted to help usher in 2014 with snow and frigid temperatures across much of the region.
Snow was expected to begin falling overnight, promising a messy commute for the first business day of the new year, but the full 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, the National Weather Service said.
"There will be travel problems," said Hugh Johnson, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Albany, N.Y. "It will be very cold."
The storm dropped a half-foot or more of snow in Illinois on Wednesday, prompting hundreds of flight cancellations into and out of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, according to the aviation tracking website FlightAware.com.
Authorities said the weather may have been a factor in a fatal crash involving a pickup and a bus carrying casino patrons in Indiana. Police said the truck's driver was killed and 15 bus passengers were hurt 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, with forecasts generally calling for 6 to 12 inches. New York City, likely to see 3 to 7 inches, issued a snow alert. 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.
"We are looking at a serious storm situation," Cuomo said.
Near blizzard conditions were forecast for areas along the coast. The mayor of Bridgeport declared a state of emergency for Thursday, imposing special parking regulations so crews can plow.
In Hartford, Hal Guy, of nearby Glastonbury, went shopping for three shovels.
"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.
Bruce Kelly, of East Hartford, was out looking for after-Christmas bargains. He said he wasn't going to worry on Wednesday about a storm due on Friday.
"I used to plow for the state, so I'm used to big storms," he said. "Now I'm retired, so I can just sit and watch it. So, I'm not concerned at all."
In Rhode Island, officials said crews would be prepared to plow, sand and salt roads or respond to any problems.
While the bulk of the snow was expected to hit southern New England and southern sections of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, the prospect of additional snow was welcome news for many areas farther north.
The Jackson Ski Touring Foundation in northern New Hampshire said the number of skiers during the first five days of Christmas vacation week increased 26 percent compared to last year.
"We seem to be in a sweet spot of snow," foundation executive director Thom Perkins said.
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."