Millions braced for massive blizzard in eastern US

Published: Friday 22nd January 2016 by The News Editor

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A massive blizzard is swirling towards the eastern United States, with fears of s nowfall as heavy as 1in to 3in an hour for 24 hours or more.

The National Weather Service said the storm could rank near the top 10 to hit the region, with meteorologist Paul Kocin comparing it “Snowmageddon”, the first of two storms that “wiped out” Washington DC in 2010 and dumped up to 30in of snow.

But he said the weekend timing and the days of warnings could help limit deaths and damage.

NWS director Louis Uccellini said 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.

The snowfall, expected to continue from late Friday into Sunday, could easily cause more than 1 billion dollars (£700 million) in damage and paralyse the eastern third of the nation, he added.

“It does have the potential to be an extremely dangerous storm that can affect more than 50 million people,” Mr Uccellini said.

More than 2ft of snow was predicted for Washington DC, 12in to 18in for Philadelphia, and 8in to 12in in New York.

A state of emergency was declared in Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and parts of other states, and road crews are out in force. Blizzard warnings or watches are 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.

Schools and government offices were closed, thousands of flights were cancelled and food and supplies flew off store shelves as millions of people stocked up. College basketball games and concerts in the region were postponed.

Washington is expected to be the eye of the storm, and New York City is just inside the slow-moving storm’s sharp northern edge, which means it is likely to see heavy accumulations.

The capital’s subway system said it will shut down entirely on Friday night and remain closed until Sunday for the sake of employee and rider safety. Underground stations usually stay open during major snowstorms.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Barack Obama will hunker down at the White House, and is confident that local officials will get it right.

Mr Uccellini said residents should expect high winds, a storm surge and inland flooding from Delaware to New York. Other severe but non-snowy weather is likely from Texas to Florida as the storm moves across the Gulf Coast, gaining moisture.

On Thursday, icy conditions caused accidents that killed two drivers in North Carolina and one in Tennessee. A truck with a snowplough killed a pedestrian in Maryland.

Train services could be disrupted as well, by frozen switches, the loss of third-rail electric power or trees falling on overhead wires. 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.

All major airlines have issued waivers for travel over the weekend, allowing passengers to rebook on earlier or later flights to avoid the storm. The FlightAware website estimates airlines will cancel at least 2,000 flights on Friday and another 3,000 on Saturday. By Sunday afternoon the airlines hope to be back to full schedule.

Published: Friday 22nd January 2016 by The News Editor

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