CNN — Two ferocious storm systems are expected to converge overnight across the Northeast and create what could be a historic blizzard and spawn potential travel nightmares for a large swath of the country.
A wintry blast churning across the nation and a cold front barreling up and along the East Coast will unite and could dump as much as a foot of snow in New York and up to 3 feet in Boston.
More than 1,500 flights were canceled across the region in anticipation of the storm as emergency crews geared up for inclement weather, most of which was expected between late Friday and Saturday.
"If you are on the highway and you are stuck, you are putting yourself in danger," said CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers on Thursday.
Boston could see snowfall of 2 to 3 inches per hour, and 24 inches within 24 hours, as frigid gusts swirl across the region. The system has already drawn comparisons to the "Great Blizzard" of 1978, when thousands were stranded as fast-moving snow drifts blanketed highways and left several people dead.
A fleet of 600 snow removers will be manned by municipal workers and contractors in Boston as authorities gear up for what they say could be a 36-hour storm.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino called it "a very serious storm" and urged residents to use public transportation if they have to travel into the city.
"We are hearty New Englanders and used to these kinds of storms, but I also want to remind people to use common sense and stay off the streets," he said.
Meanwhile, residents stocked up after authorities announced that public schools across Massachsuetts and Connecticut would not hold classes on Friday.
"They're coming in buying shovels, ice melts and sleds," said Atton Shipman, who works at Back Bay Hardware in Boston.
Social media was also abuzz with chatter about the incoming weather.
"Just a reminder of what the ground looks like in case anyone forgets in a couple of days," tweeted Ryan Pickering, after posting a close-up photo of a Rhode Island roadway.
Massachusetts Emergency Management officials said Thursday that they were busy salting roadways in preparation for the incoming storm.
"Travel may become nearly impossible with blowing/drifting snow and near zero visibility during the height of the storm (Friday afternoon into Saturday morning)," the agency said in a statement. "Motorized vehicles are asked to stay off the roads if they can during the storm to allow snow plows to clear the roads."
Crews began preparing snow plows at Logan International Airport, where officials said the storm is expected to cause flight delays and cancellations on Friday and well into Saturday.
United Airlines said customers in storm-affected cities will be allowed to reschedule their itineraries "with a one-time date or time change, and the airline will waive the change fees."
Delta, Jet Blue, Southwest and other airlines offered their customers similar assurances.
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said his city was also getting ready, and the timing of the storm could actually benefit municipal workers.
"If it's going to happen, having it happen Friday overnight into Saturday is probably as good timing as we could have," Bloomberg said. "The sanitation department then has the advantage of being able to clean the streets when there's normally less traffic."
By late Thursday, the National Weather Service had issued a blizzard warning from 6 a.m. Friday morning until 1 p.m. Saturday, with wind gusts up to 45 mph, creating dangerous driving conditions with visibilities near zero in white-out conditions.
Consolidated Edison, a main utility company for the New York region, said it is preparing additional crews to deal with potential power outages and advised customers to stay clear of downed power lines.
Long island Power Authority, which received intense criticism over its handling of Superstorm Sandy, also said it is preparing.
Record-breaking snowfall could hit Hartford, Connecticut as well.
"We expect snow and then rain, and severe coastal flooding," said CNN Meteorologist Sarah Dillingham.
Wind will also be a major concern. Gusts could reach 75 mph along Cape Cod and 55 mph in the Long Island Sound and cause coastal flooding, with tides rising about three to five feet.
As more miserable weather slams the region, those affected by Superstorm Sandy will be further hampered by high winds, cold temperatures and more beach erosion
Parts of the region are under a blizzard watch.