WASHINGTON (AFP) - The northeastern US shivered amid heavy snowfall and far below average temperatures on Wednesday in a storm that grounded thousands of flights and triggered traffic chaos.
The nasty weather with its bone-chilling gusts and heavy snow stretched from Washington to New England. The Midwest was hit hard, too.
Taking into account the wind chill factor, the temperature in Chicago plummeted to minus -28 degree Celsius, the Chicago Tribune said.
In the nation's largest city, the Tuesday evening commute home in New York was a mess and the city was expected to get as many as 35cm of snow by Wednesday morning.
"It's horrible. Snow is cute for only a little bit," Mary Catherine Hughes, standing by a subway stop with an umbrella rendered useless in fierce wind, told The New York Times.
The city's new mayor Bill de Blasio urged people to stay home say road crews could clear streets.
Downtown Washington fell eerily silent after the federal government, seeing the swift-moving storm approaching, closed its doors and told civil servants - who already had the day off Monday for the Martin Luther King holiday - to stay home Tuesday.
On Wednesday, federal agencies were to open two hours late. Employees could also take unscheduled leave, and those that can were allowed to work from home.
The nation's capital is famous for cowering in the face of even a few flakes but Tuesday's storm seemed to justify a shutdown.
Many offices and schools followed suit, as 32km per hour winds whipped through the US capital's unusually quiet streets.
Most area schools, in the city and neighbouring Maryland and Virginia, were to remain closed again Wednesday.
Washington's Metro public transit system reported Tuesday half as many riders as on a typical weekday. Business was so slow that many restaurants used Twitter to woo customers with bargain-priced drinks while others offered customers 2-for-1 deals.
In Philadelphia, as of early evening Tuesday, the official total at Philadelphia International Airport was 28cm of snow, a record for the day Jan 21.
The "storm system will strengthen overnight in the Atlantic waters off the East Coast, spreading heavy snow and strong wind into coastal sections of New England and the Northeast," the National Weather Service said.
FlightAware, a website that monitors air traffic in real time, said nearly 3,000 flights into, out of or within the United States had been canceled Tuesday.
The lion's share of affected flights involved busy airports in the New York, Philadelphia and Washington areas.