WASHINGTON — People in Washington and Baltimore bundled up and hunkered down Friday to endure a winter storm that has “life and death implications.” New York is preparing for the worst.
The snow arrived in Washington on Friday afternoon and quickly intensified, with 2½ feet possible by the time the last flakes fall Saturday night, according to Mayor Muriel Bowser.
The monster storm hit Washington after lashing the South and Mid-Atlantic and then barreling north. More than 85 million people are in its path, about 30 million of whom are under blizzard warnings.
Air travel on the East Coast came to a standstill, with almost 7,000 flights canceled, and more than 120,000 customers lost electricity.
“It has life and death implications, and (people) should treat it that way,” Bowser warned Washington residents. “People should hunker down, shelter in place and stay off the roads.”
Throughout the region, leaders repeated that message: Stay off the roads and highways.
“People need to understand the gravity of what is coming our way,” said Chris Geldart of the District of Columbia’s emergency management agency. “This is a dangerous storm. It is time to be indoors.”
Baltimore may get 18-21 inches, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said it will make auto travel “hazardous if not impossible.” Mass transit service was suspended there for the weekend, as it was in Washington.
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a weather emergency declaration from 8 a.m. until midnight Saturday. He urged residents to avoid driving. Vehicles blocking roadways are subject to towing. However, there are no plans to suspend mass transit at this time.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said trucks, snow movers and personnel are being moved to the south part of the state in anticipation of the storm.
He urged residents to be prepared, saying, “I have a shovel in my trunk.”
Meteorologists warned the public to take heed.
“This is not a near miss,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said. “This is a direct hit.”
On Friday morning, the National Weather Service extended its blizzard warning to include Philadelphia and New York. Upward of 10 million people live in those three areas; millions more in parts of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey are under the same advisory.
Wind will be another problem in the mid-Atlantic.
Forecasts call for sustained winds of up to 30 mph and gusts of 10 or more mph stronger. Gusts could hit 65 mph between 1 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday in Maryland, the National Weather Service warned.
The website FlightAware reported at 6:30 p.m. that 3,032 flights on Friday and 3,714 on Saturday had been canceled across the nation.
Most airports in the Mid-Atlantic virtually shut down. United Airlines, for instance, said operations at Dulles and D.C. metro airports were suspended, with plans to resume limited flights on Sunday night.
Storm, ice pummels Southeast
The massive storm already has dumped an icy blotch of freezing rain, sleet or snow from Oklahoma through Tennessee. And while the focus is on points north, it has caused lots of trouble in the South as well.
That includes severe thunderstorms in Florida; up to 7 inches of snow in Nashville, Tennessee; and a winter storm warning Friday afternoon into Saturday night for parts of North Georgia and South Carolina. The system also slammed Kentucky and West Virginia, and parts of both could see over a foot — and as much as 3 feet — of snow.
More than 120,000 customers have lost power, including 110,000 customers of Duke Energy, the power utility for much of North Carolina.
Kentucky declared a state of emergency, even though the worst of the storm had passed, to make emergency services easier to deliver. Interstate 75 was shut down because of multiple crashes, the Kentucky State Patrol Facebook page said.
The Tennessee State Patrol tweeted a plea for drivers to avoid the highways: “If you are thinking about going out for a Friday night on the town DON’T! We are desperately asking you please DON’T DRIVE. #STAYN”
Across the Southeast on Friday, there were no classes, or students headed home early, just in time for the weekend. Places like Charlotte, North Carolina, looked like ghost towns, as people heeded warnings to stay off the roads.
“I’m glad people are staying in, because it’s very treacherous here,” Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said the bad weather already has caused at least four auto deaths. It has also forced the postponement of hundreds of events — including NBA games in Philadelphia and Washington, plus an NHL contest in the nation’s capital, as well as a rally for the Carolina Panthers ahead of their NFC professional football championship in Charlotte. Some fans from Arizona, the home of the Panthers’ foe, flew out early to make Sunday’s title contest, AZ Central reported.
‘Hardest snowstorm’ in memory in Virginia
In Virginia, state government offices and schools shut down ahead of the storm. Gov. Terry McAuliffe told CNN on Friday morning that some 25,000 personnel with 13,000 pieces of equipment, 650,000 tons of salt and 2 million gallons of liquid salt are positioned strategically around the state.
From her home just outside Lynchburg, Tracy Batwinas said the storm, coming after what has been a mild winter, has jostled many people. Her husband had to circle many times to get a parking spot outside a local Kroger grocery store, and once he got inside, he found that staples like eggs, bread, milk and more had been cleared off the shelves.
By 9 a.m., snow was coming down fast — “the hardest snowstorm that I can remember ever seeing,” said Batwinas, 53, who was born and raised in Virginia. Still, while many are worried, she’s looking forward to “a play date” with her husband of four years and their two golden retrievers.
The good news — besides whatever fun those not in harm’s way can have on a snow day — is that things should get better soon.
“Next week, it’s going to be in the high 40s,” McAuliffe told CNN’s “New Day.” “… We can get back to normalcy very quickly. … But please don’t get out on the roads (now) if you don’t have to.”
Washington may set snow record
Washington could very well break its all-time snow record. Twenty-eight inches fell in the “Knickerbocker Storm” of 1922, named after a theater that collapsed under the weight of snow, killing 100 people.