Utilities, airports and local officials braced for power outages, flight delays and slick roads while shoppers headed out to stores to tackle gift lists during a shorter-than-normal holiday shopping season.
The National Weather Service has said 6 to 12 inches of snow are expected in New England, with as much as 14 inches possible along the Maine coast. Areas north and west of New York City and interior Pennsylvania could get 8 inches or more. About half a foot was forecast in parts of Ohio, where snow began falling overnight.
Airlines have canceled about 940 flights because of the storm, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest. Almost 350 flights into and out of Newark, N.J., have been canceled, and 172 at Chicago's O'Hare airport have been called off. ExpressJet and United have canceled the most flights so far.
"It's a pretty bad day for Newark," said Mark Duell, a spokesman for FlightAware, a website that tracks commercial airlines. About 40 percent of Newark's 900 flights have been cut, he said.
If the weather gets much worse, American Airlines and Delta may be forced to cancel more flights in New York and Chicago, Duell said. Chicago was forecast to get 3 to 6 inches of snow by late Saturday afternoon.
But some areas, including resorts and ski towns in Northern New England, welcomed the snow and were eager to see the winter season get started.
"We have been watching (the forecast) since people first started talking about it on Monday or Tuesday," said Ethan Austin, spokesman for the Sugarloaf Ski Resort in Carrabassett Valley, Maine. "Right now it's setting up pretty well for us, so we're pretty psyched."
Meteorologist Paul Head with the National Weather Service in State College, Pa., said winds will pick up into Sunday, presenting hazardous blowing snow for motorists.
Temperatures in Connecticut dropped into the teens as snow began to fall there Saturday, and officials worried about road conditions since a saltwater solution normally applied before storms would freeze. But they were grateful the bad weather wouldn't affect work day commutes.
"The timing is pretty good coming on a weekend," said Kevin Nursick, spokesman at the state Department of Transportation.
Not so for retailers, facing the prospected of a snow-dampened shopping weekend less than two weeks before Christmas.
Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, said consumers likely will shop online. And the weekend before Christmas gives retailers and shoppers another opportunity after this weekend.
"If a big storm hits around the 21st, 22nd, it will be a completely different story," Grannis said.
Caroline Pretyman, a spokeswoman for Northeast Utilities, which serves electric and gas customers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, said extra crews would be available beginning overnight Saturday to respond to outages.
New York City's Office of Emergency Management asked drivers to stay off the roads and, if they do drive, they should go slowly and stick to major streets or highways.
In Pennsylvania, two state high school football championship games were moved from Saturday to Sunday because of a predicted 5 to 8 inches of snow.
John Wallace, a spokesman at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn., said airport officials were meeting with vendors and airlines to assess the impact of the storm. But he said he wasn't worried.
"It's New England. It's the wintertime," he said. "I think we're pretty well ready for whatever is headed our way."___ Associated Press writer Christopher S. Rugaber in Washington, D.C., and Lisa Rathke in Montpelier, Vt., contributed
to this report.