Storm batters northeast US
A winter storm with fierce winds has struck the north eastern United States dumping nearly two feet of snow in some parts and whipping up blizzard-like conditions.
Governors in New York and New Jersey declared states of emergency, urging residents to stay at home. Hundreds of schools were shut in Boston and New York, extending the Christmas break for tens of thousands of students.
Travel woes spread across the region. US airlines cancelled more than 2,300 flights nationwide ahead of the storm and hundreds more flights were expected to be cancelled or delayed today, especially at New York and Boston airports.
Some major roads in New York state were shut down overnight and Metro-North trains around New York City were operating on a reduced schedule.
The National Weather Service said 21 inches (53 cms) of snow had fallen in Boxford, just north of Boston, by Thursday night, while other parts of Massachusetts had 18 inches (46 cms). Upstate New York around Rochester had 18 inches of snow while New York City was expected to get about eight inches (20 cms).
"This is nothing to be trifled with," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said. "People should seriously consider staying in their homes."
"It's a two-story storm," explained meteorologist Joseph Pollina. "The snow and the cold."
Forecasters said temperatures were plummeting to well below freezing and wind chill readings could hit minus 10 F (-23 C). Mr Pollina said a high of 15 F (-9.5 Celsius) was expected today in New York City.
"We're going to see a lot of snow and a lot of wind," said forecaster Jason Tuell. "We're concerned about whiteout conditions possibly tonight with the blowing and drifting snow."
Outreach teams were searching New York City streets for homeless people at risk of freezing to death.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ordered non-essential state workers to stay at home. State offices and courthouses were closed, as well as many local city offices. State offices were also closed in Massachusetts.
The weather service issued a blizzard warning for Cape Cod, coastal areas north and south of Boston and part of Maine as well as New York's Long Island, where up to 10 ins (25 cms) of snow could fall and winds could gust to 45 mph (72 kph).
The heavy weather began rolling in yesterday just a day after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was sworn in to lead the nation's largest city and a few days before Boston Mayor Thomas Menino ends 20 years in office.
Mr De Blasio, who in 2010 criticised predecessor Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his handling of a post-Christmas storm, said 1,700 snowploughs and 450 salt spreaders were hitting the streets in New York City.
"We have to get it right, no question about it," Mr de Blasio said. "We are focused like a laser on protecting this city."
The Long Island Rail Road's alcohol-spraying train, which fights freezing on switches, was loaded up, and the subway system's outdoor platforms were salted. Chains were placed on city buses so they would not get stuck in drifts.
Mr Menino announced a parking ban and closed the city's schools. Boston airport shut down last night.
"What a New Year's gift, to receive one last snowstorm as mayor," said Mr Menino.