'Potentially crippling' snowstorm heads for US coast

  • 23/01/2016
Snow falls on the East Front of the US Capitol in Washington (Reuters)
Snow falls on the East Front of the US Capitol in Washington (Reuters)

By Ian Simpson

A winter storm that could bury parts of the US Middle Atlantic region under 90cm of snow slammed into Washington on Friday (local time), threatening the nation's capital with record accumulations as it barrelled up the East Coast.

The blizzard started to blanket the Washington area during the early afternoon. Six people had died in car crashes as a wintry mix spread across Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky.

The storm could dump 60 to 90cm of snow on Baltimore and the capital and bring winds of 48 to 80km/h before winding down on Saturday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.

Philadelphia and New York were expected to get 30 to 46cm of snow before the storm abates.

"I want to be very clear with everybody. This is a major storm," Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said as the city braced for what could turn out to be one of the worst storms in its history. "This has life-and-death implications and all the residents of the District of Columbia should treat it that way."

The Weather Channel said more than 85 million people in at least 20 states were covered by a winter weather warning, watch or advisory and residents up and down the East Coast scrambled to stock up on supplies.

Airlines cancelled more than 7100 flights in the US for Friday and Saturday, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.com. An additional 7000 flights were delayed on Friday alone, reverberating to airports across the country.

The approaching storm led New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to return home from New Hampshire, where he was campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination. Christie declared a state of emergency as well.

"The smartest thing for you all to do is stay home, stay where you are," Christie told an evening press conference.

Residents along New Jersey's coast prepared for potential flooding during high tides on Saturday and Sunday. In Ocean City, emergency management officials warned of forecasts calling for the highest flood levels since Superstorm Sandy brought heavy damage in 2012.

The storm arrived in the Washington area, home to about six million people, after dropping 13cm of snow in Arkansas and spreading a wintry mess of snow, sleet and freezing rain in parts of Tennessee and Kentucky.

Federal offices in the Washington area closed at noon to allow employees to get home ahead of the storm.

The forecast prompted the Virginia National Guard to ready 400 troops to deal with emergencies. In New York, 600 National Guard personnel were on standby.

AAP