A dangerous winter storm will bring snow by the foot to the U.S. mid-Atlantic, including Washington, threatening at least 50 million people in its path while canceling thousands of flights and closing schools and government offices.
Washington and Baltimore may get 2 feet of snow (61 centimeters) by Saturday, and Philadelphia could see almost as much. New York may get buried in 6 to 10 inches. Blizzard warnings and watches stretch from Virginia to Long Island, including New York and Washington.
“It has the potential to be an extremely dangerous storm,” Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service, said Thursday in a conference call with reporters. “It is a potentially paralyzing storm.”
Almost 5,000 flights have already been canceled for Friday and Saturday in the U.S., according to Houston-based FlightAware. Everything from schools to rail lines were planning closures in Washington. Snow will start in the Mid-Atlantic late Friday afternoon or evening and then move up the East Coast, arriving in New York by Saturday morning, Uccellini said.
Washington’s public schools will close Friday and non-essential district workers will be sent home at noon, the mayor’s office said in an e-mail. Washington Metro will halt city buses at 5 p.m. Friday, while keeping rail service operating until 11 p.m., according to the transit agency’s website. Both bus and subway services will remain shut through Sunday.
One major Washington event will go on as scheduled: The annual March for Life marking the Roe v. Wade anniversary will start at noon, the event’s organizers said in a release, regardless of the weather.
American Airlines Group Inc. said it was canceling some flights Friday and all flights out of the Washington region as well as Philadelphia on Saturday. American also canceled regional flights at three New York area airports for Saturday. United Continental Holdings Inc. said it was shutting operations starting Friday afternoon out of Dulles International, along with other Washington-area airports.
Deutsche Lufthansa AG said Friday it had canceled flights to New York, Philadelphia and Washington because of the storm, while Etihad Airways said it also expected cancellations and delays.
The storm is already having an impact, with severe thunderstorms and tornadoes in Texas and Louisiana. Ice storms are forecast in Kentucky and North Carolina and high winds and flooding are possible along the Eastern Seaboard from Delaware to New York.
The blizzard will affect industries such as airlines and power companies and tax emergency crews, said Uccellini, who together with weather service meteorologist Paul Kocin wrote a textbook on winter storms.
Duke Energy Corp. had mobilized 3,200 workers in North Carolina and South Carolina to fight power outages, according to a company statement.
“It is a multifaceted storm in regards to its potential impacts,” Uccellini said. “Seven million people could be affected by icing.”
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio said trucks carrying rock salt will begin hitting the streets Friday with crews operating 12-hour shifts through the weekend. Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and North Carolina have declared emergencies.
Boston may be spared the worst of the storm as it passes to the south.
“Boston is one of the more difficult locations to forecast for this storm,” Patrick Burke, a meteorologist with the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, said in an interview. “Any kind of shift of the track of the storm could bring heavier amounts.”
Uccellini said there will be a fine line between where heavy snow hits and those areas that get almost nothing, as well as where precipitation falls as rain or sleet.
“We still have forecast challenges facing us,” Uccellini said. “There is a very sharp gradient in the snowfall predictions just north of New York City. Any shift in that gradient can mean lots of snow for New York City or very little.”
There was a similar problem last year when initial forecasts called for New York to get almost 3 feet of snow, he said. That deep snow missed the city and parts of Long Island, and New England bore the brunt of that system.
While the storm is forecast to be over for most of the East on Sunday, Uccellini said on Thursday that people should keep an eye on the system. “Could something go wrong with the forecast between now and tomorrow night? Yes,” he said.
With assistance from Steven T. Dennis, Mary Schlangenstein, Dan Reichl and Lars Paulsson.