Millions of Americans preparing to dig themselves out after big blizzard

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Millions of Americans were preparing to dig themselves out on Sunday after a mammoth blizzard with hurricane-force winds and record-setting snowfall brought much of the US East Coast to an icy standstill.

The travel ban that barred non-emergency vehicles from the roads of New York City was lifted at 7 am Sunday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In Baltimore, a travel ban was also lifted, but some restrictions remain in place.

Meanwhile, mass transit systems that had been partially suspended during the storm were to be restored gradually.

But even as United Airlines said limited service might begin later in the afternoon in New York City, airports in the Washington DC area were likely to remain closed on Sunday, and other airlines started to cut Monday service in addition to the 7,000 already-cancelled weekend flights.
The massive snowstorm brought both the nation's capital and its largest city to a stop, dumping as much as 3 feet (90 centimetres) of snow and stranding tens of thousands of travellers. At least 18 deaths were blamed on the weather, resulting from car crashes, shoveling snow and hypothermia.

The snow dropped 26.8 inches (68.1 centimetres) in Central Park, the second-most recorded since 1869. The snowfall narrowly missed tying the previous record of 26.9 inches (68.3 centimetres) set in February 2006. The snow finally stopped falling in New York City around 10pm. On Saturday night, though authorities insisted people stay indoors and off the streets as crews plowed deserted roads and police set up checkpoints to catch violators.

The storm dropped snow from the Gulf Coast to New England, with areas of Washington surpassing 30 inches (76.2 centimeters). The heaviest unofficial report was in a rural area of West Virginia, not far from Harpers Ferry, with 40 inches (101.6 centimeter).

"This is kind of a Top 10 snowstorm," said weather service winter storm expert Paul Kocin, who co-wrote a two-volume textbook on blizzards.
The usually bustling New York City looked more like a ghost town. With Broadway shows dark, thin crowds shuffled through a different kind of Great White Way, the nickname for a section of the theater district. And Bruce Springsteen cancelled Sunday's scheduled show at Madison Square Garden.

In Washington, monuments that would typically be busy with tourists stood vacant. All mass transit in the capital was to be shut down through Sunday.

Throughout the region, drivers skidded off snowy, icy roads in accidents that killed several people on Friday and Saturday. Those killed included a 4-year-old boy in North Carolina; a Kentucky transportation worker who was ploughing highways; and a woman whose car plunged down a 300-foot (91-metre) embankment in Tennessee. Three people died while shovelling snow in Queens and Staten Island.

An Ohio teenager sledding behind an all-terrain vehicle was hit by a truck and killed, and two people died of hypothermia in southwest Virginia. In North Carolina, a man whose car had veered off an ice-covered road was arrested on charges of killing a motorist who stopped to help.

In Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, drivers were marooned for hours in snow-choked highways.

Roofs collapsed on a historic theatre in Virginia and a horse barn in Maryland, while seaside towns in New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland grappled with flooding.

The snow was whipped into a maelstrom by winds that reached 120 kph at Dewey Beach, Delaware, and Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, the weather service said. From Virginia to New York, sustained winds topped 48 kph and gusted to around 80 kph. And if that weren't enough, the storm also had bursts of thunder and lightning.

Stranded travellers included Defence Secretary Ash Carter, whose high-tech aircraft, the Doomsday Plane, couldn't land at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland after returning from Europe. Carter was re-routed to Tampa, Florida.

EARLIER REPORT

Millions of residents, business owners and workers began digging out on Sunday from a massive blizzard that brought Washington, New York and other northeastern US cities to a standstill, killing at least 19 people in several states.

The storm was the second-biggest in New York City history, with 26.8 inches (68cm) by midnight on Saturday, just shy of the record 26.9 inches set in 2006, the National Weather Service said.

Thirteen people were killed in weather-related car crashes in Arkansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia on Saturday. One person died in Maryland and three in New York City while shovelling snow. Two died of hypothermia in Virginia, officials said.

On the New Jersey shore, a region hard-hit in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy, the storm drove flooding high tides.

After dumping about two feet of snow on the Washington area, the storm unexpectedly strengthened as it spun northward and slammed into the New York metropolitan area on Saturday, home to about 20 million people.

Winds gusting to more than 64kph sculpted drifts many feet high, burying cars.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency, as did 10 other governors. A ban imposed on all travel on New York City area roads and on Long Island, except for emergency vehicles, was set to end at 7am on Sunday.  Bridges and tunnels into the city were also set to reopen.

Subways running above ground and trains operated by the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North halted service on Saturday and were to be evaluated for service restoration at 6am.

By early Sunday the storm had all but moved off the coastline, with remnants trailing over parts of Long Island and Cape Cod. Much of the northeast was expected to see a mix of sun and clouds on Sunday with temperatures just above freezing.

Shows, flights cancelled

Given the massive storm's impact, it was too soon to tell how much Wall Street's reopening on Monday would be affected.

Broadway theaters cancelled Saturday matinee and evening performances at the urging of the mayor, and a Bruce Springsteen concert set for Sunday was called off.

As an otherworldly quiet descended on the usually bustling city of 8.5 million, the most populous in the US, tourists and residents took to city streets, venturing into the expanses of parks, some on skis. Others built snowmen and had snowball fights.
Authorities in New York and New Jersey halted public transportation and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority took the rare step of suspending operations through Sunday.

About 3,500 flights were cancelled on Sunday, with more than 600 already cancelled for Monday, said FlightAware.com, the aviation data and tracking website.

United Airlines said it would not operate at Washington-area airports on Sunday, and would gradually resume service on Monday. The airline plans to start ‘very limited operations’ on Sunday afternoon at its Newark, New Jersey, hub.

The brunt of the blizzard reached the New York City area after battering Washington, where snow piled up outside the White House and famous monuments were frosted with snow.
The record high of 28 inches of snow in Washington was set in 1922 and the biggest recent snowfall was 17.8 inches in 2010.

More high tides expected

High winds battered the entire East Coast, from North Carolina to New York, reaching 70mph in Wallops Island, Virginia, late on Friday, whipping up the tides and causing coastal flooding, said National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Gallina.

The snow also engulfed the Mid-Atlantic cities of Baltimore and Philadelphia while about 150,000 customers in North Carolina and 90,000 homes in New Jersey lost electricity. Accumulations in parts of Virginia and West Virginia reached 40 inches.

Tides higher than those caused by Superstorm Sandy three years ago pushed water onto roads along the Jersey Shore and Delaware coast and set records in Cape May, New Jersey, and Lewes, Delaware, said NWS meteorologist Patrick O'Hara.

Some evacuations were reported along the New Jersey shore.   Wildwood, a town of more than 5,000 people about 48km southwest of Atlantic City on a barrier island, saw some of the worst flooding.

Emergency workers in inflatable boats rescued more than 100 people from homes, said Wildwood Fire Chief Christopher D'Amico.

Water levels reached chest-height in parts of Wildwood and refrigerators and soda machines floated down the main street.

Further north, barrier islands near Atlantic City were also experiencing significant tidal flooding, said Linda Gilmore, the county's public information officer.

The high tides were set to return on Sunday morning.

The storm developed along the Gulf Coast, dropping snow over Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky on Friday. On the coast, warm, moist air from the Atlantic Ocean collided with cold air to form the massive winter system, meteorologists said.  

EARLIER REPORT

Update: East Coast officials report at least 17 deaths related to massive snowstorm.

At least 15 people have died in six states as a result of the monster snow storm battering the eastern United States, officials said Saturday.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed three people died shoveling snow, while officials in North Carolina said six people died in road accidents. Virginia and Kentucky each reported two fatalities, and one person died in both Maryland and Arkansas.

"It's a reminder to everyone -- do not overexert, particularly folks having any kind of health challenges," De Blasio told CNN.

The storm -- dubbed 'Snowzilla' -- clobbered a large swath of the eastern US, dumping near-record amounts of snow on Washington, New York and other major cities.

Storm expected to affect more than 85 million people

A deadly blizzard blanketed the eastern United States in near-record amounts of snow Saturday, shutting down New York and Washington in a colossal storm expected to affect more than 85 million people.

More than 4,400 flights were cancelled as the mega-storm brought airports in New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore to a halt, shuttered transport in the US capital and prompted New York officials to issue a sweeping travel ban.

Snow slows down traffic on Interstate 40, Friday morning, Jan. 22, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. A blizzard menacing the Eastern United States started dumping snow in Virginia, Tennessee and other parts of the South on Friday as millions of people in the storm's path prepared for icy roads, possible power outages and other treacherous conditions. (AP)

200,000 people without power

More than 200,000 people were left without power and 2,200 National Guard personnel were drafted in.

Forecasters said the storm -- dubbed "Snowzilla" -- would last into Sunday with two feet (60 centimeters) expected in Washington and more than 20 inches falling in parts of New York, making it one of the Big Apple's five biggest blizzards in history.

State Governor Andrew Cuomo closed all roads in the city, America's financial and entertainment capital home to 8.4 million, Long Island, and bridges and tunnels west to New Jersey.

"Safety is our number one priority," Cuomo told reporters.

"We're trying to get ahead of it with the cleanup crew. And then we'll see what Mother Nature has in store for us as we go on," he told MSNBC.

Bus services were suspended at noon, and overland commuter and subway trains in and out of Manhattan were shut from 4:00 pm (2100 GMT) as Broadway cancelled performances, museums closed and shops shuttered.

Metro and bus networks were shut down in Washington for the entire weekend, and largely shut in Philadelphia and New Jersey on Saturday.

Strong winds are causing coastal flooding concerns for a large portion of the East Coast, the National Weather Forecast (NWS) warned, with streets in some New Jersey towns filled with water and ice.

Thousands of motorists were stranded for hours on highways in the south.

A snow-covered car is seen in a parking lot in front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, as snow continues to fall on January 22, 2016. A monster blizzard threatening the US East Coast slammed into Washington on January 22, blanketing the nation's capital in snow as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter, warning the worst was yet to come. (AFP)

January 23

A monster blizzard threatening the US East Coast slammed into Washington Friday, blanketing the nation's capital in snow as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter, warning the worst was yet to come.

Forecasters predict the storm will dump two feet (61 centimeters) of snow in Washington and the surrounding area by late Saturday, bringing life to a wintry halt as residents ride out the rough weather.

"The real teeth of this #winterstorm will be after midnight thru early Sat afternoon.

A plow clears snow from a street near the US Capitol in Washington, DC, as snow continues to fall on January 22, 2016. A monster blizzard threatening the US East Coast slammed into Washington on January 22, blanketing the nation's capital in snow as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter, warning the worst was yet to come. (AFP)
 

“Heavy snow, increasing winds, lightning threat," the National Weather Service (NWS) for the Washington and Baltimore region tweeted.

A blizzard warning was in effect for a large swath of the eastern United States from Washington up to New York, the NWS said.

Several southern states were already hit by snow and sleet -- unusual for that region -- with tens of thousands without power.

"I want to be very clear with everybody. We see this as a major storm. It has life and death implications," Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser warned.

Thousands of flights were scrapped and grocery store shelves emptied in preparation for the storm, which was dubbed ‘Snowzilla’ by The Washington Post's weather team.

Schools and government offices in Washington were all closed, with public transportation scheduled to shut down late Friday until early Monday.

"Visibility will be reduced to near zero at times in whiteout conditions," the NWS reported.

"Heavy snow and blowing snow will cause dangerous conditions and will be a threat to life and property. Travel is expected to be severely limited if not impossible during the height of the storm."

The Post reported that by 8pm (0100 GMT Saturday), snow accumulation on Washington's National Mall had reached 3.5 inches, with a bit more in the near suburbs.

Pedestrians are see in front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, as snow continues to fall on January 22, 2016. A monster blizzard threatening the US East Coast slammed into Washington on January 22, blanketing the nation's capital in snow as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter, warning the worst was yet to come. (AFP )

Winds were expected to pick up overnight, prompting city police chief Cathy Lanier to urge residents to stay indoors.

"With the increasing winds and increasing snow accumulation, now we're going to see more and more people stranded," she told CNN.

NWS director Louis Uccellini said Thursday the system had the potential to "affect over 50 million people”.

Crews were out clearing the roads throughout the US capital, while others turned to shovels.

Among them was 28-year-old William Duren, who was clearing a sidewalk outside a downtown Washington hotel.

"Usually when we see snow in the forecast, it turns out to be only an inch or so. They always exaggerate on TV," he said, before adding that this time, the forecasters appeared to be right.

"It's a doozy," Duren said.

People buy seafood at the Wharf as the snow begins to fall in Washington January 22, 2016. The leading edge of a monster snowstorm arrived on Friday afternoon in Washington, D.C. (Reuters)

'Going to be a disaster'

So far, more than 7,000 flights originally scheduled for Friday and Saturday within, into or out of the United States have been canceled, according to the flight monitor flightaware.com.

In Washington, officials took the unusual step ahead of the storm of closing down the city's rail and bus system from Friday night until Monday morning.

The Metro system -- the second busiest in the United States after New York -- serves about 700,000 customers a day in Washington, Maryland and Virginia.

Grocery store shelves were bare -- with toilet paper, milk, bread and alcohol conspicuously missing -- as residents anticipated impassable roads and power outages.

"I think it's going to be a disaster," Sharonda Brown, a nurse, said as she waited for an Uber car with a full cart of groceries at a Washington supermarket.  

If the blizzard leaves as much snow in Washington as forecast, it could surpass a record set in 1922 by a storm that dumped 28 inches over three days and killed 100 people after a roof collapsed at a theater.

US Capitol Police have said they were lifting a decades-old sledding ban, but the national monuments, Capitol building and Smithsonian museums were all closed.

Even a massive snowball fight in Washington's Dupont Circle neighborhood, which nearly two thousand people said they would attend on Facebook, had to be postponed from Saturday to Sunday due to the storm's ferocity.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial sits in the snow January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. A winter snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with prediction of up to 30 inches of snow for the DC area.(Getty)

'Lots of accidents'

Snow and sleet has already hit the southern states of Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia and Virginia, with 18 states under blizzard or other winter storm warnings, the Weather Channel reported.

"We're having a lot of accidents," North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory told CNN.

Nearly 95,000 people were without power in the state, emergency officials said on Twitter.

CNN reported that nearly 133,000 were without power across the Southeast.

Further north, in New York, the storm is expected to dump up to a foot of snow from early Saturday to midday Sunday, the NWS reported.

"Unless urgent, stay off the roads," Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference.

The frigid weather marks a stark departure from what has otherwise been a mild winter along the eastern seaboard.

Just a month ago on Christmas Eve, the NWS reported that temperatures in New York's Central Park peaked at 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 Celsius), the warmest ever for the day since records began in 1871.

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