Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell has ordered the opening of the state's emergency operations center to help officials respond to problems caused by a major snowstorm headed to New England.

Rell also said she will brief mayors and first selectmen during a conference call Sunday.

State offices will be closed Monday for a furlough day intended to cut spending, but the governor said state plow operators took their furlough day earlier in the year. As a result, the state's 632 plow operators will be clearing roads Sunday.

Rell also said the State Police and Connecticut National Guard will be on standby to respond to emergencies.

Southern New England is bracing for as much as foot of snow and blizzard conditions in some areas.

Between 11 and 16 inches could accumulate across southwestern Connecticut. The first flurries in Fairfield and New Haven counties began shortly after 10:30 a.m., and were likely to intensify after noon.

More snow is likely on Monday, mainly before 9 a.m., according to the National Weather Service.

Winds could gust as high as 55 miles per hour and on average will be around 20 to 35 miles per hour.

In the northern areas, snowfall will begin Sunday afternoon and accumulation could be between 8 to 12 inches. Winds could gust as high as 45 miles per hour.

The weather service warning states that there will be "extremely dangerous travel conditions," with the strong possibility of snow drifting and blowing due to the high wind. Visibility could be near zero with whiteout conditions expected.

The strong winds could take down power lines, tree limbs and could turn Christmas decorations into flying projectiles, so take precautions in advance.

"Do not travel," forecasters warn. "If you must travel, have a winter survival kit with you. If you get stranded, stay with your vehicle."

In addition to the heavy snow, the weather service said, the storm might also cause coastal flooding in the greater Bridgeport area and in other locations along the Long Island Sound.

The storm threatened to wreak havoc along the northeast transportation corridor, already under heavy stress because of the post-Christmas flood of travelers.

The operations center at Bradley International Airport in Hartford reported that flights were departing and arriving, as schedule, as of 11 a.m. But at other airports in the storm's path, major airlines were canceling hundreds of flights.

More than 800 flights had been canceled as of Sunday morning at New York's LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International Airport and at Newark Liberty International Airport, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said.

Continental Airlines canceled 250 departures from Newark Liberty International Airport outside New York City. United Airlines canceled dozens of Sunday departures from Newark, Philadelphia, New York's LaGuardia and JFK, Boston and other airports. AirTran and Southwest Airlines also canceled flights, mostly in or out of Washington Dulles, Baltimore and Newark.

Delta Air Lines spokesman Kent Landers said the airline proactively canceled about 850 mainline and regional flights systemwide Sunday.

"Most cancelations are concentrated from the Carolinas through New York," he said.

Most carriers were waiving fees for one-time changes in affected areas and urging passengers to make changes through their websites.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Transportation reported that roads across the state were expected to become slippery as the first flurries turned into heavier snowfall.