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Snowstorm pounds the Northeast, canceling flights, closing schools

By Madison Park, Kwegyirba Croffie, Ralph Ellis and Eric Levenson CNN

(CNN) -- The Northeast is hunkering down Thursday for what could be the most significant storm of the season, with a foot of snow of forecast and blizzard conditions in some areas.

Airlines already have canceled more than 1,500 flights along the storm path as of Thursday morning. Most of those were at the Newark, New Jersey; Boston; and New York's LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports.

New York, Boston and Philadelphia have closed their public schools for the day. The latter two have also declared snow emergencies, which affect city services and parking. All state offices in New Jersey have been closed for nonessential personnel.

More than 60 million people will be dealing with the wintry weather, CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri said.

Winter storm warnings are in effect, stretching from Pennsylvania through parts of New York, New Jersey and New England.

The storm was expected to bring strong winds with whiteout conditions at times, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said.

Impact on Eastern cities

The National Weather Service estimated that 8 to 12 inches of snow in New York and 12 to 15 inches of snow in Boston are possible.

Officials warned residents to avoid morning travel as heavy snow can make roads slick and dangerous. The National Weather Service in New York said that conditions will "rapidly deteriorate around daybreak" and that 2 inches of snow could fall per hour.

New York officials said wind gusts reached 50 mph Thursday morning. Bus service is not operating for the day, and officials urged residents to stay off roads due to the snowy, wintry conditions.

Officials also said they have not made a decision on whether to shut the Long Island Expressway, the main roadway on the island.

The good news is that the storm is expected to move out quickly. However, snowfall in Boston could continue into the weekend, and temperatures won't rise above freezing there until Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

Schools affected

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted Wednesday night that city schools would close. About 1 million students attend the city's 1,800 public schools, making it the largest school district in the United States.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh also said the city's public school system would be shut Thursday, and he urged people to be "looking out for your elderly neighbors, disabled neighbors, neighbors who might not be able to help themselves." Boston has 125 public schools with about 56,000 students.

The School District of Philadelphia, which has 134,041 students, is also closed for the day.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said state colleges and courts would be closed. "This is a serious challenge when you talk about 8 to 14 inches" of snow, he said.

Several colleges in the Northeast including all City University of New York colleges, Rutgers University in New Jersey and MIT in Massachusetts are closed Thursday.

Don't call it a nor'easter

The storm was expected to pack a punch, but it's not a nor'easter.

Nor'easters get their name from the winds that blow from the northeast ahead of a storm's arrival as it moves up the Eastern Seaboard, remaining offshore.

This storm is moving from west to east, from land out to sea, so it can't be classified as a nor'easter.

The region had a nor'easter on January 24 that jammed roads and caused major disruptions in air travel.

Up and down temps

New Yorkers may be experiencing a bit of "weather whiplash" after enjoying sunny, warm weather a day earlier.

Temperatures Wednesday set a new record high of 65 F at Kennedy airport, nearly 30 degrees above average for early February.

But the mild conditions were short-lived as temperatures plummeted overnight, paving the way for snow.

CNN's Brandon Miller contributed to this report.

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