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'Stay off the roads': East Coast residents warned to stay home as blizzard nears

As a powerful blizzard closes in on the East Coast, airlines have canceled more than 3,000 flights and some city officials are delivering a blunt message: Don't travel if you don't have to.

“Stay off the roads, stay safe," said Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.

WATCH NOW: Live streaming video of the Northeast blizzard

The National Weather Service is advising Bostonians not to travel after noon on Friday, his office pointed out.

"This is a powerful storm," TODAY meteorologist Al Roker said Friday. "It will probably rank as one of Boston’s top five storms before it’s all over."

The city could get more than two feet of snow.

Nervous fliers in the region monitored the weather and scrambled to change plans as airlines pre-emptively canceled more than 2,600 flights in New York and Boston alone, according to More than 3,200 flights were axed within, into or out of the U.S.

AAA urged travelers to be aware of the hazards of winter driving and to keep up with the changing weather conditions.

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"As the storm develops, if conditions are poor and you can avoid traveling on the roadways, do," said AAA spokeswoman Heather Hunter.

"We will be keeping an eye on the storm and helping any of our travelers out there."

On Thursday, the weather system affected Chicago’s O’Hare International, where snow and ice delayed arriving flights by more than two hours at one point on Thursday afternoon. More than 80 flights scheduled to depart from the airport were canceled, according to

Airlines and airports in the storm’s path were bracing for its impact.

“We’re monitoring the weather system closely and will adjust our operations accordingly,” said Allison Steinberg, a spokeswoman for JetBlue Airways.

Like most carriers, the airline is giving travelers the chance to reschedule their flights without paying any change and cancellation fees. (For a full list, scroll down to the bottom of the article.)

Related:Latest news on the blizzard

Delta Air Lines urged its passengers to take advantage of the waivers.

“Delta is closely monitoring conditions along the storm's forecast path and encourages customers to consider moving up, postponing or re-routing their travel to avoid possible inconvenience from expected flight delays,” the carrier said in a statement.

Southwest Airlines warned its passengers that flights could be “delayed, diverted, or canceled.”

Meanwhile, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced it is deploying extra personnel and taking all possible measures to handle any wintry conditions that may develop at JFK International, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International.

The agency noted that its “winter weather arsenal” includes more than 200 pieces of snow and ice equipment at the airports, including “melters that can liquefy up to 500 tons of snow an hour” and plows that can clear snow at 40 mph.

Port Authority staff will work around-the-clock in 12-hour shifts during the most severe storms, officials said.

If you are scheduled to fly in the next couple of days, here is a list of airlines offering fee waivers due to the storm:

  • American Airlines passengers traveling to, through or from Boston, New York, Montreal and more than 10 other airports can change their plans for free.
  • Delta Air Lines’ policy covers more than two dozen airports.
  • JetBlue Airways will waive change and cancel fees and fare differences for travel to and from a dozen airports.
  • Southwest Airlines passengers traveling to, through or from Boston, Newark, and several other cities are eligible to reschedule their flights for free.
  • United Airlines' policy covers more than 30 airports.
  • US Airways has also relaxed its change-fee policies.