BOSTON -- A mammoth snowstorm is battering the New York-to-Boston corridor and has the potential to be a record-breaker.
More than 18.5 inches of snow has fallen in parts of central Connecticut. More than 16 inches of snow are covering Mansfield, Mass., just southwest of Boston.
The National Weather Service says up to 3 feet of snow is expected in Boston, threatening the city's 2003 record of 27.6 inches.
Throughout the Northeast, 500,000 homes and businesses had lost electricity by Friday night as wet snow, freezing rain and howling winds caused havoc. Most are in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Thousands of flights have been grounded. New York City's airports are closed. There's about a foot of snow east of the city.
From New Jersey to Maine, shoppers crowded into supermarkets and hardware stores to buy food, snow shovels, flashlights as well as generators -- something that became a precious commodity after Superstorm Sandy in October. Others gassed up their cars, another lesson learned all too well after Sandy. Across much of New England, schools closed well ahead of the first snowflakes.
This is a storm of major proportions. Stay off the roads. Stay home, said Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.
The wind-whipped snowstorm mercifully arrived at the start of a weekend, which means fewer cars on the road and extra time for sanitation crews to clear the mess before commuters in the New York-to-Boston region of roughly 25 million people have to go back to work. But it could also mean a weekend cooped up indoors.
Amtrak has suspended its Northeast Corridor service between New York and Boston. Airlines, meanwhile have canceled thousands of flights through tomorrow.
In heavily Catholic Boston, the Archdiocese urged parishioners to be prudent about attending Sunday Mass and reminded them that, under church law, the obligation does not apply when there is grave difficulty in fulfilling this obligation.
Halfway through what had been a mild winter across the Northeast, blizzard warnings were posted from parts of New Jersey to Maine. The National Weather Service most of Rhode Island could receive more than 2 feet by Saturday night. Connecticut is bracing for 2 feet and New York City could be expecting as much as 14 inches.
By Friday evening, the New York-to-Boston corridor was getting blowing, swirling snow and freezing rain. Early snowfall was blamed for a 19-car pileup in Cumberland, Maine, that caused minor injuries.
The snow was expected to be at its heaviest Friday night and into Saturday. Forecasters said wind gusts up to 75 mph have caused widespread power outages and have whipped the snow into fearsome drifts. Flooding could be expected along coastal areas still recovering from Superstorm Sandy.
Meteorologist Jeff Masters of Weather Underground said the storm was actually a collision of two storms, and may end up among the Boston area's Top 5 most intense ever.
When you add two respectable storms together, you're going to get a knockout punch with this one, he said.
The storm comes almost 35 years to the day after the Blizzard of `78, a ferocious storm that dropped 27 inches of snow, packed hurricane-force winds and claimed dozens of lives.
Masters said the region could get a break from warmer air trailing behind that is expected to push temperature up to the 40s by Monday. It's going to be not that difficult to dig out, compared to maybe some other nor'easters in the past, where it stayed cold after the storm went through, he said.
Drivers were urged to stay off the streets lest their cars get stuck, preventing snowplows and emergency vehicles from getting through. New York City ran extra commuter trains in the afternoon to help people get home before the brunt of the storm hit.
Amtrak stopped running trains in cities around the Northeast on Friday afternoon. Airlines canceled more than 4,300 flights through Saturday, and New York City's three major airports and Boston's Logan Airport all but shut down in the afternoon.
Interstate 95 in Rhode Island was closed to all but essential traffic. In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick enacted a statewide driving ban for the first time since the Blizzard of `78. Hours before the ban went into effect at 4 p.m., long lines formed at gas stations, some of which were almost out of fuel.
In New York, Fashion Week -- a series of designer showings, with some activities held under tents -- went on mostly as scheduled, though organizers put on additional crews to deal with the snow and ice, turned up the heat and fortified the tents. The snow did require some wardrobe changes: Designer Michael Kors was forced to arrive at the Project Runway show in Uggs.
The snow was too much of a good thing in some places. In New Hampshire, the University of Connecticut's Skiing Carnival was canceled because of the snowstorm. In Maine, the National Toboggan Championships in Camden were postponed from Saturday to Sunday, and the Camp Sunshine Polar Plunge was put off until March.
At Rosie's Liquors in Abington, Mass., customers were lined up eight to 10 deep Friday, snapping up rum, wine and 30-packs of beer.
We've been absolutely slammed. It's almost been like Christmas here, manager Kristen Brown said. A lot of people are saying, `I'm going to be stuck with my family all weekend. I need something to do. '
Associated Press writers Denise Lavoie in Whitman, Mass., Rodrique Ngowi in Watertown, Mass.; John Christoffersen in Fairfield, Conn., and Bob Salsberg in Boston contributed to this report.