Massive storm forecast to hit US East Coast

A customer at a severely depleted grocery store in Virginia on Thursday. Many people living in areas expected to be hit by the storm have begun stocking up on supplies.
A customer at a severely depleted grocery store in Virginia on Thursday. Many people living in areas expected to be hit by the storm have begun stocking up on supplies.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

State of emergency declared in five states and capital

Millions of people on the East Coast of the United States are bracing themselves for what forecasters are calling a "potentially paralysing storm", which has already led to flight cancellations, school and office closures and residents emptying grocery stores.

Five states - Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Tennessee - and Washington, DC have so far declared a state of emergency, as almost 75 million people are in the storm's path.

The nation's capital, which will be in the eye of the storm, is expecting 61cm of snow. In 1922, a record 71cm of snow blanketed the city over three days.

A blizzard warning for Baltimore and Washington, DC, issued by the National Weather Service (NWS), said heavy snow would "cause dangerous conditions and will be a threat to life and property".

"Travel is expected to be severely limited if not impossible during the height of the storm Friday night and Saturday," said the NWS, which also warned of "near zero" visibility in "white-out conditions" at times.

Wind gusts of up to 88kmh are expected, with temperatures in the region of minus 6 deg C, it added.

New York City is also on blizzard watch from Saturday morning through Sunday afternoon. Motorists have been urged to stay off the roads starting from yesterday.

"Anyone who has the illusion you're going to be taking big trips over the weekend, get that out of your mind," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference.

On Wednesday night alone, Virginia state police had to deal with more than 100 traffic crashes state- wide with one fatality, due to just 2.5cm of snow.

In Washington, the subway system will suspend operations from late yesterday through Sunday.

Federal office workers would be let off at noon yesterday to allow time for them to make it home before the storm hits, while public schools would be closed yesterday.

The impending storm saw people packing into grocery stores on Thursday evening and clearing entire shelves of fruit, bread, eggs and other staples.

Many also bought salt and shovels - items that were prominently displayed - for their driveways.

More than 4,000 domestic and international flights scheduled for landing and taking off from the US yesterday and today have been cancelled, according to flight-tracking website flightaware.com.

Speaking to reporters at a news conference, Mayor Muriel Bowser said: "I've lived in DC most of my life and I don't know if I've lived through a forecast like this. It's an extremely large storm."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline 'Massive storm forecast to hit US East Coast'. Print Edition | Subscribe