A major winter storm could complicate the first post-New Year's Day back to work and school for millions in New England and beyond.
The storm, predicted to affect the USA from the upper Midwest to the East Coast from Wednesday through Friday, is expected to bring the heaviest snow across southern New England on Thursday and early Friday.
"Over a foot of snow will fall in localized areas of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut and the cities of Hartford, Conn., Providence, R.I., and Boston," predicted AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. Lesser amounts, in the 6- to 12-inch range, are likely in northeastern Pennsylvania, in New Jersey and in southeastern New York state.
This includes all of New York City, where the National Weather Service is warning that the storm's strong winds will cause blowing and drifting snow later Thursday. In anticipation of the storm, the weather service placed the entire New York City area under a winter storm watch for Thursday and Friday. A winter storm watch means there is potential for significant snow accumulations that may affect travel.
The weather service on Wednesday warned that several inches are possible through early Friday along the Interstate 90 corridor from Chicago to Boston.
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Dot Joyce, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino's press secretary, said city officials were monitoring the storm, but that it was too early to say whether students' first day back to school, slated for Friday, would be canceled. "We are New Englanders - we get snow and we get cold weather and we're hardy," she said.
Boston teachers are due back Thursday, and Joyce expects "a regular city work day," since the storm is not expected to bring snow "in earnest" until after 4 p.m., she said.
Snow will also fall on Wednesday across portions of the Midwest and the Great Lakes. The heaviest snow will fall mainly in northern Illinois, northern Indiana, southern Michigan and southern Ohio.
Chicago could see as much as 6-8 inches of snow from late Tuesday through late Thursday, which WGN meteorologist Tom Skilling says will arrive "in waves rather than a single stretch."
The Weather Channel has named the storm "Hercules" as part of its winter storm naming system.
Meanwhile, the weather service said, rain - at times heavy - will push through the Southeast.
The Winter Classic outdoor NHL hockey game in Ann Arbor, Mich., between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings, was played in snowy conditions Wednesday.
Arctic chill will also still be a concern on Wednesday, as the "bitter cold will continue over the Northern Plains and upper Midwest, with temperatures running as much as 20 to 30 degrees below normal," the weather service predicted.
So far this month, International Falls, Minn., has endured eight days when the temperature has dropped below minus-30 degrees, which is a record, according to meteorologist Cory Mottice of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions.
Some of the coldest air in years will roar into the Northeast after the snowstorm departs Friday, according to AccuWeather meteorologist Bernie Rayno. "This is likely to be the coldest weather for much of the Northeast since January 2009," Rayno said.
Lows in cities such as Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore will drop into the single digits Friday night.
Contributing: Greg Toppo