A powerful blizzard struck Boston and surrounding New England, leaving some 4.5 million people grappling with as much as three feet of snow and coastal flooding, but sparing New York City residents.

Snow was forecast to keep falling into early Wednesday in eastern New England, possibly setting a record snowfall in Boston.

Boston's record snowfall of 27.5 inches (69.85 cm) was set in February 2003. At Logan International Airport, 23.3 inches (59.2 cm) of snow was on the ground, swept higher in parts by strong winds.

"There are drifts now of four, five and six feet in some places," Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said. "This is clearly a very big storm for most of Massachusetts."

blizzard 2015
Workers use snow removal equipment to clear the tarmac at Logan Airport in Boston, MassachusettsDominick Reuter/Reuters
blizzard 2015
Snow blankets the South End neighbourhood of Boston, MassachusettsKayana Szymczak/Getty Images
blizzard 2015
Snow piles up at the entrance of the closed Copley T station in Boston, MassachusettsKayana Szymczak/Getty Images
blizzard 2015
Snow is piled up at the entrance of the closed Arlington T station in Boston, MassachusettsKayana Szymczak/Getty Images

The heaviest snowfall was recorded outside Boston, with 36 inches (91.4 cm) in Lunenburg, Massachusetts, and 35 inches (88.9 cm) reported in Auburn, according to the National Weather Service.

The area is also dealing with bitter cold: the low in Boston on Wednesday is expected to be 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 12 Celsius) and forecasters said it would not get above freezing for the next week or so.

Storm-driven coastal flooding added to the state's woes, as low-lying towns south of Boston grappled with rising water.

High tides breached a seawall in Marshfield, about 30 miles (50 km) south of Boston, damaging 11 homes, several of which were condemned, police said. Police urged residents to evacuate.

The National Weather Service said a 78 mph (125 kph) gust was reported on Nantucket, and a 72 mph (115 kph) one on Martha's Vineyard.

blizzard 2015
An ice build-up on the sea wall is seen along Winthrop Shore Drive in Winthrop, MassachusettsDarren McCollester/Getty Images
blizzard 2015
Snow-covered cars are seen on Veterans Road in Winthrop, MassachusettsDarren McCollester/Getty Images
blizzard 2015
Snow covers a car in Cambridge, MassachusettsMaddie Meyer/Getty Images

Many Boston residents celebrated the snow, with hundreds taking part in recreational activities in parks and on snow-covered streets.

Residents of Boston's Beacon Hill neighbourhood skied, snowboarded and sledded downhill.

blizzard 2015
Fourteen-year-old Will Adam snowboards down a street on Beacon Hill in Boston, MassachusettsBrian Snyder/Reuters
blizzard 2015
Students play football on the Quad, at the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, MassachusettsMaddie Meyer/Getty Images
blizzard 2015
Students lie on the snow-covered Quad in their swimming trunks on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, MassachusettsMaddie Meyer/Getty Images

Further south, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut escaped the worst of the storm, despite dire predictions by meteorologists and officials.

New Yorkers were divided on whether Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had over-reacted ahead of the storm. Cuomo had ordered a total travel ban on all roads in the southern part of the state, while the subway system closed for the first time in history due to snow.

Cuomo defended the decisions, saying he favoured "a lean toward safety". "I have seen the consequences the other way," he said. "I would rather be in a situation where we say 'We got lucky'."

New York City's snowfall was still substantial: La Guardia International Airport recorded 11 inches (28 centimetres) of snow, and Central Park was blanketed with almost 8 inches.

blizzard 2015
In a scene remniscent of a Pieter Breughel painting, adults and children play on sleds at Brooklyn's Prospect ParkSpencer Platt/Getty Images
blizzard 2015
Isabelle Bar-Lev, 5, from Manhattan, puts on her hat after sledding in Carl Schurz Park in New YorkYana Paskova/Getty Images
blizzard 2015
People walk their dog in a snowy Central Park in New YorkYana Paskova/Getty Images
blizzard 2015
Mason Gloudeman, 26, uses a snowboard to jump from a pile of snow in Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, New YorkStephanie Keith/Reuters
blizzard 2015
Snow is seen piled up on a snowbank in the Suffolk County town of Dix Hills, New YorkShannon Stapleton/Reuters
blizzard 2015
A car slowly makes it way along I-95 in New Haven, ConnecticutMichelle McLoughlin/Reuters