< Back to front page Text size +

What does a snow emergency mean?

Posted by Catherine Cloutier  January 21, 2014 03:14 PM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

CoUrbanize Blog mapped out where to (and where not to) park your car during snow emergencies in the Boston area.

It's snowing or about to snow, and suddenly the announcements start coming. Public schools are closed. Meetings cancelled. A snow emergency and parking ban declared. But what does that mean?

Here's the short answer: A snow emergency is the term for the active response plan of a municipality or county during a snow storm. In Massachusetts, more often than not it is used to indicate weather-related parking bans.

During snow emergencies, parking is restricted on certain streets in Boston-area cities. If you are parked on one of those streets and fail to move your car by the appointed time, it most likely will be ticketed or towed.

But like many things in Eastern Massachusetts, the details vary by municipality. Here's a look at some of the area's most populous cities' policies.


In Boston, only major thoroughfares (Commonwealth Avenue, Beacon Street, Newbury Street, etc.) are affected by a snow emergency's parking ban. Your definition of "major arterial" may differ from the city's, so visit the city's map or list by neighborhood before stashing your car during a storm.

If you need a place to park in Boston during the storm, the city offers discounted parking at several parking lots and garages to cars with resident parking stickers. The hitch: you must move your car within two hours of the snow emergency being lifted.


Cambridge will tag and tow your car if it's parked on certain streets during a snow emergency. The city has 82 streets with parking bans--some affect the whole street, others one side. Look for signs indicating whether there's a no parking ban during a snow emergency.

Some of Cambridge's snow emergency signs may be folded, showing no message when closed and the message "Tow Zone, No Parking until Further Notice, Narrow Roadway" when open. These streets may not follow the declared snow emergency hours; if the sign is open, the parking ban persists.

Like Boston, Cambridge offers parking garages for those stranded by the snow emergency. Five parking facilities--Galleria Mall, First Street Garage, Green Street Garage, 52 Oxford Garage, and 65 Waverly Street--offer free parking starting at 6 p.m. if the snow emergency is called overnight. Vehicles must have a resident parking sticker.


Somerville declares snow emergencies when four or more inches of snow are predicted. Residents have four hours after the snow emergency is called to move their cars to the odd-numbered side of the street. After that, the city begins ticketing and towing offending cars.

If you can't find a spot on the odd-numbered side of your street, spots at schools, municipal buildings and municipal public parking lots are available (see map.) Once the snow emergency is lifted, vehicles must be retrieved within two hours.

How to find out about snow emergencies:

On your mobile phone: Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville offer emergency email and text alerts.

On social media: Follow your city's Twitter accounts.

On your city's website: Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville

From the media: will have updated storm coverage, including snow emergency declarations. For school cancellations, go here.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article