First major snow storm of 2014 intensifies, prompting expanded blizzard warnings in Greater Boston area

The first major snowstorm of 2014 has intensified, prompting the National Weather Service this afternoon to expand its blizzard warning to the South and North Shore where some towns have already received 8 inches of snow, an amount that could reach 24 inches in spots before the storm fades away mid-morning on Friday.

In an updated weather message posted shortly after 4 p.m., the weather service said that residents of Essex County and all of Plymouth County should now be prepared for the mixture of high winds, blowing snow and dangerously cold temperatures predicted originally for just parts of the Plymouth County and Cape Cod.

Patrick, who closed state offices today at 3 p.m., said they will remain closed Friday. At an evening briefing, he urged private businesses to follow suit and said that while he is not issuing a driving ban, people should stay off the roads if possible.

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“Minimize outside activities,” Patrick said at the state’s emergency management headquarters. “This is pretty, in some respects, it’s nice to look at. But these temperatures are very, very dangerous.”

Officials said they had flooding concerns in coastal communities including Duxbury and Scituate, where residents in certain areas have been asked to voluntarily evacuate in anticipation of a dangerous high tides at midnight and noon on Friday.

“I certainly expect a number of other coastal communities will do that as well,” said Kurt Schwartz, the state’s undersecretary for homeland security.

Richard Davey, the transportation secretary, said during the evening briefing that the T will be operating on Friday but riders should check the MBTA website for service updates.

“Undoubtedly, given the cold, there will be impacts, for sure,” Davey said.

Most schools, colleges, and universities were closed today and most are expected to be in the same status on Friday in the wake of forecasts that snow will fall throughout Thursday night and into Friday morning, bringing with it dangerously cold air measured in single digits.

Patrick said it will be up to local communities to decide whether to shut schools.

The governor also said he has activated the Massachusetts National Guard to support state and local storm response efforts, but has not officially declared a state of emergency.

Patrick, public safety officials, and the National Weather Service are also warning about what the governor called “a different set of dangers’’ from this storm when compared to others the region has endured.

“Temperatures will be extreme,’’ Patrick said, adding that some areas could see wind chills drop as low as 25 below zero. He urged residents to check on neighbors, to limit exposure to the bitter cold, and to make sure emergency kits are updated.

Officials are also anxiously watching storm surges with particular concern focused on easterly facing coastal communities prone to flooding at high tides. Portions of Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester and Quincy Shore Drive in Quincy were closed because of tidal-related flooding, but have since reopened, state officials said.

Since the snow started falling, the jackpot so far has been the North Shore towns of Topsfield and Ipswich, both of which received 8 inches by mid-afternoon; Boston got nearly 7 inches by the same time, according to the weather service.

At Logan Airport, most airlines have notified Massport they are reducing flight operations today and will not resume their full schedule until mid-morning on Friday at the earliest. Many New Englanders who were trying to return to the region after the holidays will face delays.

Massport also issued the standard advice to travelers: Check with your airline before heading to the airport because not every flight is being canceled and not every airline is being impacted the same way by the weather system.

State officials said they do not expect major power outages because the snow is light, but added that the response by utility companies will be monitored by the state. By this evening only scattered outages were reported by major eastern Massachusetts utilities.

Patrick said there were well over 2,000 plows on the roads throughout the state this evening.

Earlier in the day, outgoing Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who is leaving office after 20 years as mayor, joked, “I guess mother nature wanted to give me one more gift, another snow storm.’’

Major General L. Scott Rice, the head of the Massachusetts National Guard, said that up to 400 Guard members are being called up to conduct well-being checks and possible evacuations. The Guard will also deploy its fleet of 50 Light Medium Tactical Vehicles, which can drive through up to three feet of water.

“It’s not just stranded motor vehicles; it’s people in their houses without power that’s going to be a crisis,” Rice said, noting the bitter cold descending on the region. “So we want to be able to finds those people as quickly as possible and get them to shelter. We have nothing that nature can throw at us that can stop us from getting there.”