Washington: Residents of the eastern United States are bracing Thursday for a major snow storm that threatens to bury Washington, which was already reeling from a mere dusting that caused massive traffic snarls.
The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a blizzard watch stretching from the Washington area, which was due to see the first snowfall on Friday, up to New York, which could catch the tail end of the storm as the weekend progresses.
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, forecasters said.
"Heavy snow and blowing snow will cause dangerous conditions and will be a threat to life and property," NWS said.
"Travel is expected to be severely limited if not impossible during the height of the storm Friday night and Saturday."
Heavy snow was expected across 15 states, according to the Weather Channel, which reported that more than 70 million people were under some sort of winter weather advisory as of Thursday morning.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser tweeted that she would declare a "snow emergency" effective Friday morning at 9:30 am (1430 GMT) and that city schools would be closed.
The city 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.
Virginia state police tweeted that troopers responded to "767 crashes & 392 calls for disabled vehicles Wednesday, majority in #NOVA," an abbreviation for Northern Virginia.
One person was confirmed dead in the crashes and a state trooper was struck and sustained minor injuries in a separate incident, local ABC affiliate WJLA reported.
If the blizzard dumps as much snow in Washington as predicted over the weekend, 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.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency on Thursday.
"All Virginians should take the threat of this storm seriously and take necessary precautions now to ensure they are prepared for travel disruptions and possible power outages during a cold weather period," he said.
Residents were already flocking to supermarkets for essentials.
- 'First big storm'
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.
However, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told a press conference that his city was assuming it would get up to eight to 12 inches, 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.
"At this moment on Thursday morning the forecast is still unclear, but there's an increasing potential for a major winter storm this weekend. The latest forecast shows snow beginning early Saturday and continuing through Sunday."
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.
South of Washington, "significant icing is likely for portions of Kentucky and North Carolina," NWS said.
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.