Millions prepare for potentially ‘paralyzing’ east coast winter storm

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Washington DC is at the center of the blizzards aim, where forecasters have warned residents to brace for more than 30in snow and wind gusts up to 50mph

Millions of people across a dozen states are bracing for a weekend of travel disruption, possible power outages and white-out conditions as a potentially paralyzing winter storm begins to bear down on the eastern US on Friday.

Washington DC is at the center of the blizzards aim. Forecasters have warned residents of the nations capital to brace for more than 30in of snow and wind gusts up to 50mph in some places. If predictions are accurate, snow totals in the District could shatter records set in 1922.

Beyond the blizzards most extreme snowfall, storm conditions ranging from hail and severe lightning to several feet of snow are forecast for areas stretching from Florida to New England. The National Weather Service (NWS) announced on Friday afternoon that New York City should expect 12-18in of snow, most of it falling on Saturday.

So far, seven deaths have been attributed to the storm, principally due to traffic incidents: four were reported in North Carolina, one in Maryland, one in Tennessee and one in Kentucky. The North Carolina state highway patrol has reported 928 car crashes and 1,400 calls for help over the first 13 hours of the storm.

Airports have cancelled more than 6,000 flights as zero-visibility conditions grounded entire airports, and Washington DC shut down its public transit system through Monday morning for the first time since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The national park service also announced that museums and memorials along the National Mall would be closed at least through Sunday.

Ahead of the storms arrival, Mayor Muriel Bowser had declared a state of emergency and was joined by the governors of Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia. In Philadelphia, where the NWS has predicted up to 20in of snow, the director of emergency operations, Samantha Philips, announced a city-wide snow emergency beginning Friday night. Philips said that the city hopes to clear the streets to reduce the potential damages of snow-laden trees falling into streets and sidewalks.

Bowser was forced to offer a hurried apology earlier this week for failing to prepare the district for a few inches of snow that fell there on Wednesday. The dusting quickly turned the Washington areas evening commute into an hours-long gridlock for thousands of commuters including the president, whose motorcade was heading to the White House from Andrews air force base.

The storms sustained winds could make blizzard conditions particularly dangerous whenpaired with the expected record snowfall, according to the NWS. The agencys meteorologists expect the snowstorm to affect as many as 50 million people.

This will be a potentially paralyzing storm that is life-threatening, NWS director Louis Uccellini said in a news conference on Thursday at the services forecasting center in Maryland.

He said that the main computer models projecting the path and severity of the storm showed similar patterns which was unusual and he urged civic leaders to take the forecast especially seriously.

Uccellini predicted coastal flooding in the mid-Atlantic states as a result of a cycle of high tides swept higher by strong onshore winds.

Freezing rain, sleet and thunderstorms moved from Texas up to Oklahoma and across Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas, bringing severe weather that turned to snow as it reached cold air from Canada over the Carolinas.

Paul Kocin, also of the NWS, has predicted the storm could join the top 10 snowfall totals on record. The mechanisms coming together for a major snowfall are textbook, he said.

Many store shelves, in the Washington area especially, were cleared out of basic milk, bread, toilet paper, batteries and beer by Thursday evening, and the snow shovels were in short supply.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio warned that New Yorkers should plan a weekend at home in order to avoid accidents, and make way for 2,400 snow ploughs that will spread more than 300,000 tons of rock salt.

We are bracing here in New York City for the first big snowstorm of this winter, de Blasio said at a press conference on Friday. Get done what you have to get done today.

The Weather Channel dubbed the event Winter Storm Jonas, though the NWS does not recognize the practice of naming winter storms. The forecast of strong winds forced the cancellation of a free winter weekend sports event known as Winter Jam in New Yorks Central Park.

By the time the storm reaches Boston, which was hit with record late-winter snows last year, the snow will likely bring no more than a dusting.

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