The eastern United States braced Thursday for a blizzard that could bury Washington under more snow than it has seen in nearly a century, before moving on to New York.
Washington and neighboring cities including Baltimore could see up to two feet (61 centimeters) of snow accumulate in a short time as a result of the monster storm, which was also expected to generate fierce winds and icy rain in some area, forecasters said.
Heavy snow was expected across at least 15 states, according to the Weather Channel.
The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a blizzard warning for Washington, which was due to see first snowfall on Friday, and said New York could catch the tail end of the storm as the weekend progresses.
"Heavy snow and blowing snow will cause dangerous conditions and will be a threat to life and property," NWS warned in its Washington bulletin.
"Travel is expected to be severely limited if not impossible during the height of the storm Friday night and Saturday."
NWS director Louis Uccellini said the system had "the potential of being an extremely dangerous storm that could affect over 50 million people."
"We are talking about a potentially paralyzing storm that is already setting up," Uccellini told reporters on a conference call.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a state of emergency which will allow for access to "federal resources when we need them," she said during a press conference, in which she also called off school Friday.
"I\’ve lived in DC most of my life and I don\’t know if I\’ve lived through a forecast like this. It\’s an extremely large storm. It will last for 36 hours."
Governors Terry McAuliffe of Virginia and Larry Hogan of Maryland also both declared a state of emergency on Thursday.
The US capital was already struggling after evening flurries on Wednesday left traffic at a standstill, even snaring President Barack Obama\’s motorcade, which spent more than an hour navigating the icy streets from Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland to the White House — normally a trip of 20-25 minutes.
"We should have been out earlier with more resources," Bowser admitted.
Asked how Obama planned to weather the storm, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday: "My guess is he will stay warm and toasty inside the White House."
Virginia state police said on Twitter that they had responded to hundreds of fender-benders on Wednesday, most in the Washington suburbs.
One person was confirmed dead in the crashes, local ABC affiliate WJLA reported.
Across the state line in Beltsville, Maryland, a private snow plow hit and killed a man walking along a highway, The Washington Post reported.
If the blizzard creates as much snow in Washington over the weekend as predicted, 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.
Residents were already flocking to supermarkets for essentials Thursday.
The NWS reported that there was "uncertainty" in snowfall through early Saturday in the corridor stretching from New York City to Boston, which saw massive amounts of snowfall last winter.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio however told reporters that his city was preparing for up to 12 inches of snow, as he issued a hazardous travel advisory for the weekend.
"We\’re bracing for the first big storm of the winter. I want to let my fellow New Yorkers know we\’re prepared, the agencies here are ready for what\’s coming up ahead," de Blasio said.
He said more than 575 salt spreaders would be pre-deployed on Friday evening and that the city had 303,000 tons of rock salt on hand.
Washington had more than 200 plows and 39 tons of salt at the ready, Bowser said.
South of Washington, "significant icing is likely for portions of Kentucky and North Carolina," NWS said.
Uccellini said there was even "the potential for a severe weather outbreak today from East Texas to the western part of Florida."
The frigid weather marks a stark departure from what has otherwise been a mild winter along the eastern seaboard.
On Christmas Eve, the NWS reported that temperatures in New York\’s iconic Central Park peaked at 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 Celsius), the warmest ever for the day since records began in 1871.