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Major storm strikes US East Coast with possible record snowfalls

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A paralyzing winter storm forced the cancellation of thousands of flights, closed government offices and threatened Washington with one of its worst snowfalls on record as it moved up the East Coast. New York City braced for a blizzard and declared an emergency.

[NEW YORK] A paralyzing winter storm forced the cancellation of thousands of flights, closed government offices and threatened Washington with one of its worst snowfalls on record as it moved up the East Coast. New York City braced for a blizzard and declared an emergency.

Snow started to fall in Washington early Friday afternoon. The city, along with Baltimore, could get more than 61cm, according to the National Weather Service. New York and Long Island may see up to 45cm.

"There are blizzard warnings for the whole corridor from Washington to Philadelphia, New York and Long Island," said Dan Petersen, a meteorologist with the US Weather Prediction Centre in College Park, Maryland.

"It is going to put us in the top couple of snowstorms down here. It's a historic snow storm."

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The heaviest three-day snow to fall in the Washington area was 71cm in January 1922, according to the weather service. Baltimore received 68cm inches in February 2003. While the East Coast cities bear the brunt of some of the heaviest snow, the storm is a national event, with a tornado and severe thunderstorms across the South and an ice storm stretching from Kentucky into North Carolina.

ALERTS POSTED

Winter storm warnings and advisories stretched from Mississippi to Massachusetts. The storm's reach seemed to be a little bigger than forecast, so areas on its northern side, such as New York, might get more snow, Petersen said.

"It should start to snow at, or just after, midnight" in the New York area, said Jeffrey Tongue, a weather service meteorologist in Upton, New York.

"The city and Long Island will have the highest totals in the Tri-State region," which includes New Jersey and Connecticut.

Winter storms caused 15 per cent of all insured home, auto and business catastrophic losses in 2014, according to the Insurance Information Institute in New York.

"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."

TRAVEL TROUBLE

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a winter weather emergency and urged people to avoid traveling on Saturday. In Washington, federal offices closed at noon, according to the Office of Personnel Management's website. Public schools closed and Washington Metro were scheduled to halt city buses at 5pm and rail travel at 11 pm. Both bus and subway services will remain shut through Sunday.

More than 7,000 flights around the US were grounded through Sunday as of 5.40pm New York time, according to Houston-based FlightAware, an airline tracking service.

Amtrak canceled several trains in the East Coast and across the South. Philadelphia planned to shut regional rail and bus service starting at 4am on Saturday, and all flights for the day at Philadelphia International Airport were halted.

North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Georgia lifted some trucking restrictions to help expedite fuel deliveries.

About 127,000 homes and businesses had lost power across the Southeast and East as of about 3.30pm on Friday, according to the US Department of Energy. Most were in North Carolina and South Carolina, where ice began falling Friday morning.

NYC OUTLOOK

In addition to the heavy snow in New York, wind gusts of 80.5kmh are possible in Manhattan and the rest of New York starting Saturday into Sunday, the weather service said. "That could lead to power outages," Tongue said.

The line between heavy snow and not much at all will be a fine one in the New York area, so the area just north of the city will probably have amounts drop off sharply. At the same time, New Jersey could end up as much as 45.7cm, the weather service said.

It's possible that areas in the Hudson Valley north of New York will get nothing at all, Tongue said.

Boston will probably be spared any real threats. The city that saw a record snowfall last year may get from 2.5 to 7.6cm by Sunday, said Stephanie Dunten, a weather service meteorologist in Taunton, Massachusetts.

Cape Cod, southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island could get 12 to 20cm, she said.

After the storm passes, the weather should improve with temperatures at 2 deg C.

"The sun will be out on Sunday for the cleanup," Tongue said.

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