In New York, temperatures were not expected to dip much below freezing, raising the prospect of heavy and wet snow that is difficult to shovel off sidewalks and plough off roadways, said Bob Oravec, a forecaster with the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
The conditions could create "pretty messy" commutes and potentially down power lines and trees, causing power outages, Oravec said.
New York City public schools will hold remote classes on Tuesday for the more than 900,000 students in the nation's largest school district, Mayor Eric Adams said on Monday.
The city also issued a travel advisory, asking residents to stay off the roads on Tuesday so snow ploughs can keep them clear.
Adams told a media briefing on Monday the city had been lucky to go almost two years without substantial snowfall, but that "Mother Nature does what she wants." He added that the city was "taking this storm extremely, extremely serious."
In New England, the forecast of heavy snow prompted Boston's mayor to declare a state of emergency, cancelling Tuesday classes in all city schools, and set off alarm bells for many residents, who scrambled to prepare for the storm.
"We're almost totally out of snow shovels," said Ethan Straub, a hardware store manager in Boston. He said his stock of 100 shovels had dwindled to just a dozen by Monday morning. Ever since the storm appeared in weather reports, he said, the rush of business had been "crazy."
In Fall River, about 80km south of Boston, Tony Cruz planned to work nonstop on Tuesday and Wednesday shovelling snow off driveways, front steps and sidewalks, armed with just a shovel and snow blower.
"I work alone. Just me. I'm 'Tony the Handyman' and if we get a tonne of snow I'll work until it's done," Cruz said, adding that he stays warm with an insulated jacket and "lots and lots of coffee."
A winter storm watch was in effect for Long Island, New York City and part of northeast New Jersey. The precipitation will begin as rain late on Monday and turn to snow as temperatures fall overnight. The amount of snowfall could rise or drop depending on when that change occurs, Oravec said.
New York City's "snow drought" of almost two years ended in mid-January, when an Arctic blast dropped about 3.5cm in Central Park. Tuesday's snow is expected to exceed that, possibly creating conditions for sledding and snowball fights, albeit briefly.
A fleet of more than 2000 snow ploughs and 700 salt spreaders stood by in New York City, ready to hit the streets, according to the city's sanitation department.
Strong winds, up to 64km/h and coastal flooding were also forecast along the New England coast, as well as the Jersey Shore and Long Island.