A potentially paralyzing blizzard began dumping snow on the southern and eastern United States, spurring mass flight cancelations over the weekend and causing seven states to declare a state of emergency. More than two feet (60 centimeters) of snow was predicted for Washington alone.
The National Weather Service said the winter storm could rank near the top 10 to ever hit the region. NWS meteorologist Paul Kocin compared it to "Snowmageddon," the first of two storms that "wiped out" Washington in 2010, but he said the weekend timing could help limit deaths and damage.
"It does have the potential to be an extremely dangerous storm that can affect more than 50 million people," said Louis Uccellini, director of the weather service. The snowfall, expected to continue from late Friday into Sunday, could easily cause more than $1 billion in damage and paralyze the eastern third of the nation, he said.
So far, the snowstorm was looking just like the forecasts promised, NWS forecaster Daniel Petersen said Friday afternoon. Washington could get one of its top threestorms in history, he said.
Uccellini said all the elements have come together to create a blizzard with brutally high winds, dangerous inland flooding, white-out conditions and even the possibility of thunder snow, when lightning strikes through a snowstorm.
Two feet or more of snowfall is forecast for Washington and Baltimore, and nearly as much for Philadelphia. New York City's expected total was upped Friday to a foot or more.
A state of emergency was declared in Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, New Jersey and parts of other states. Blizzard warnings or watches were in effect along the storm's path, from Arkansas through Tennessee and Kentucky to the mid-Atlantic states and as far north as New York.
As far south as Atlanta, people were urged to go home and stay there.
Schools and government offices were closed, thousands of flights were canceled and millions of people stocked up on supplies. College basketball games and concerts in the region were postponed.
Flight tracking service FlightAware said airlines canceled about 7,600 flights Friday and Saturday, about 15 percent of the airlines' schedules. By Sunday afternoon, airlines hope to be back to full schedule.
Washington's subway system said it will shut down entirely late Friday night and remain closed through Sunday. About 1,000 track workers will be deployed to keep New York City's subway system moving and 79 trains will have "scraper shoes" to reduce the icing on the rails.
The federal government closed offices at noon Friday. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama would hunker down at the White House.
The U.S. Capitol Police said sledding on Capitol Hill, which only recently became legal after an act of Congress, would be welcome for the first time in decades.
In Washington, Baltimore, and Delaware, archdioceses reminded people that dangerous travel conditions are a legitimate excuse for missing Sunday Mass.
At a supermarket in Baltimore, Sharon Brewington recalled that in the massive snowstorm of 2010, she and her daughter were stuck at home with nothing but noodles and water.
"I'm not going to make that mistake again," she said.