WASHINGTON – Washington D.C. and Baltimore were under blizzard warnings on Thursday and states of emergency were declared across the East Coast as preparations were made for a storm expected to bring up 30 inches (75 cm) of snow.
As the first major East Coast winter storm began dumping snow on the nation’s capital, residents from North Carolina to New York were told to stay indoors, avoid travel and stock up on food and other necessities.
Shoppers cleared shelves in Washington-area stores, buying batteries, water and food.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio urged motorists to stay off roads, starting on Friday.
“Anyone who has the illusion you’re going to be taking big trips over the weekend, get that out of your mind,” de Blasio said at a news conference.
Speaking at a news conference surrounded by dumptrucks being loaded with salt, Bowser said the U.S. capital’s public schools would be shut on Friday and local government offices would close at noon.
Bowser apologized for not having the city ready for about 2 inches (5 cm) of snow that snarled Wednesday’s rush hour traffic.
The National Weather Service put Washington D.C. and Baltimore under blizzard warnings from 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT) Friday through Sunday morning.
It forecast up to 2 feet (61 cm) of snow in Washington, and as much as 30 inches (75 cm) in western suburbs, with winds gusting to 50 miles per hour (80 kph).
“Visibility will be reduced to near zero in whiteout conditions,” it said.
In North Carolina, two women died late on Wednesday from car accidents on slippery roadways, the governor’s office said.
The U.S. government’s personnel office did not respond to a query about whether federal offices in the Washington area would be closed on Friday.
The storm was expected to deliver a slightly weaker wallop to the New York and Long Island areas with blizzard conditions from Saturday morning through Sunday.
New York canceled its Winter Jam in Central Park, set for Saturday, even after the snow-starved city had spent days making artificial snow for the winter sports festival.
Governors in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Pennsylvania joined Bowser in declaring states of emergency, and the governor of West Virginia declared a state of preparedness.
The light dusting of snow that stuck drivers in icy gridlock for hours in and around Washington served as an ominous prelude to the massive blizzard bearing down Thursday on the Eastern United States.
Less than an inch (2.5 cm) of snow fell Wednesday night in the capital area, but that was enough for roads to immediately freeze over. Hundreds of accidents left drivers stuck for hours in icy gridlock after efforts to lay salt ahead of the dusting proved ineffective.
Washington Mayor Bowser apologized for the city’s “inadequate response. “We should have been out earlier, with more resources,” she said.
For people already scrambling to prepare for up to 2 feet (0.6 meters) of heavy wet snow, the trouble caused by a mere dusting provided more reason to worry about what the National Weather Service is calling a “potentially crippling winter storm” expected to blanket the Mid-Atlantic region starting Friday afternoon and continuing through Sunday.
Most major school districts in the region either closed Thursday or opened late. Bowser announced that the city’s schools would pre-emptively close on Friday, and that city offices would close at noon, hours ahead of the storm. A decision on federal workers was pending Thursday.
Smaller amounts of snow are expected for New York, Boston and other northern cities, but forecasters warned of high winds, power outages and coastal flooding up and down the East Coast.
States of emergency were declared in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, where road crews were out in force Thursday. Blizzard watches were in effect from Virginia through New Jersey and beyond.
All major airlines have issued waivers for travel over the weekend, allowing passengers to rebook onto earlier or later flights to avoid the storms. The airports included vary by airline but include some cities in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia all the way up the coast to New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
One major event in Washington was still on: the March for Life, an annual anti-abortion rally that’s usually one of the largest events in the capital. It will be held Friday, the anniversary of landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion.