Baker advising ‘hearty New Englanders’ to stay home

The speed limit on the Massachusetts Turnpike has been lowered to 40 miles-per-hour

(SHNS) – As the front edge of a powerful winter storm pushes into Massachusetts, the Department of Transportation has 2,500 pieces of equipment out treating state roads, but Gov. Charlie Baker again Thursday morning urged people not to drive if they don’t have to.

The first major winter storm of the season is expected to drop about eight inches of snow across much of the state, with higher snow totals expected in eastern Massachusetts.

MEMA preparing for blizzard-like conditions in eastern Massachusetts

Baker closed state offices and asked people to stay inside Thursday, most schools canceled classes, courts are closed and employers were asked to let their employees work from home.

“While you look out the window right now and it doesn’t look that bad, I promise you in a few hours across most of central and eastern Massachusetts it’s going to look pretty rough out there,” Baker said Thursday morning at a press conference at the state’s Highway Operations Center in South Boston. “Which is why we’re urging people if you have to go somewhere, use public transportation, but if you don’t need to be on the roads that’s our preferred option because that does give your local road crews and your state road crews a lot more room to do the work they need to do to prepare for tomorrow.”

For drivers who do take to the roads, Baker said to expect “brutal driving conditions” and to pay close attention to the weather forecast. The speed limit on the Massachusetts Turnpike has been lowered to 40 miles-per-hour from West Stockbridge to Boston.

The governor and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the MBTA will run a normal weekday schedule Thursday, but the commuter rail system will operate a reduced schedule.

There is no ferry service and the Mattapan trolley line is being replaced by buses. Pollack estimated ridership on the MBTA system Thursday morning was less than half of that on a normal workday. Updates are available at http://www.mbta.com/winter.

Logan Airport advised travelers to check with their airline if they are scheduled to fly in or out of Boston on Thursday. According to the flight tracking website FlightAware, 686 flights to or from Logan have been canceled Thursday and another 13 have been delayed.

Though “this is winter in New England,” Baker asked Bay Staters to take the storm seriously, especially given the risk of widespread power outages followed on Friday by extremely low temperatures.

“If a foot of snow wasn’t enough, the forecast predicts single-digit temperatures to move in on Friday. That means the snow from this storm will freeze quickly and bitter cold temperatures will return,” he said. “Make sure you’re prepared, especially in the event you lose power, and stay safe while our road crews and first responders work through this snow storm.”

He added, “We’re all hearty New Englanders, but it’s pretty important for everybody to pay attention and be prepared for the impacts of this storm.”