* Up to two feet of snow forecast
* Boston schools ordered closed on Friday
By Scott Malone
BOSTON, Feb 7 New England braced on Thursday for a possibly record-setting winter storm, with forecasts of up to two feet (60 cm) of snow prompting local officials to urge residents to prepare.
Forecasters warned the snow would begin lightly on Friday morning but ramp up to blizzard conditions by afternoon, leading Boston Mayor Thomas Menino to order the city's schools closed Friday. He asked businesses to consider allowing staff to stay home.
"We are hardy New Englanders, let me tell you, and used to these types of storms. But I also want to remind everyone to use common sense and stay off the streets of our city. Basically, stay home," Menino told reporters. "Stay put after noontime tomorrow."
The National Weather Service said Boston could get one to two feet of snow (30-60 cm) on Friday and Saturday, which would be its first major snow fall in about two years. Light snow is expected to begin falling around 7 a.m. EST (1200 GMT) on Friday, with heavier snow and winds gusting as high as 60 to 75 miles per hour (95-120 km per hour) as the day progresses.
"It's the afternoon rush-hour time frame into the evening and overnight when the height of the storm will be," said Kim Buttrick, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts. "That's when we expect the storm to begin in earnest."
The heaviest snow was expected around Boston, the region's most populous city, with cities from Hartford, Connecticut to Portland, Maine, expected to see at least a foot.
If more than 18.2 inches (46.2 cm) of snow fall in Boston, the storm will rank among the 10 biggest snowfalls on record in the city. The heaviest snowfall ever recorded in Boston was a 27.6 inch (70.1 cm) dump that accompanied the blizzard of Feb. 17-18, 2003.
The storm's timing brought back memories of the blizzard of 1978, Boston's second-heaviest recorded snow fall, which roared in on an afternoon, dropping 27.1 inches (68.8 cm) of snow, trapping commuters on roadways and leaving dozens dead across the region, largely as a result of downed electrical lines.
Peter Judge, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said one of the state's biggest worry is power outages.
"It being winter, folks losing their power means they're also losing their heat, and if you lose heat during the middle of the storm, you're not going to be able to go out to get to a shelter," he said, adding that the agency would begin 24-hour operations at its emergency compound at noon (1700 GMT) on Friday and would be in close contact with local utilities.
Unlike the 1978 blizzard, which had been forecast to drop far less snow than it actually did, he said he hoped several days of news coverage about this storm would prompt people to stay off the roads.
"People have been warned, they have been told what the issues are," Judge said. "We don't expect people to be surprised." (Reporting By Scott Malone; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Leslie Gevirtz)