US cities on shutdown as three feet of snow set to fall
US cities from Boston to New York and Philadelphia are shutting down against a monster storm that could unload up to three feet of snow on a region of more than 35 million people.
Snow blew sideways with ever-increasing intensity in New York City and flurries began in Boston. Forecasters said the storm would build into a blizzard and the brunt of it would hit this morning.
More than 7,700 flights in and out of the north east were cancelled and many of them may not take off again until tomorrow. Schools and businesses finished early and state government offices closed.
Cities mobilised snowploughs and gritters to deal with a dangerously windy blast that could instantly make up for what has been a largely snow-free winter in the urban north east.
Streets across the region were nearly empty last night, with most workers home for the evening.
All too aware that big snowstorms can make or break politicians, governors and mayors moved quickly to declare emergencies and order the shutdown of highways, streets and mass transport systems - perhaps for days - to prevent travellers from getting stranded and to enable ploughs and emergency vehicles to get through.
New York City's subway systems and buses shut down completely at 11pm. Commuter railways across the north east also announced plans to stop running overnight.
"This will most likely be one of the largest blizzards in the history of New York City," New York mayor Bill de Blasio warned. He urged people to go home and stay there.
The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for a 250-mile swathe of the region, meaning heavy, blowing snow and potential white-out conditions.
Coastal residents braced for a powerful storm surge and the possibility of damaging flooding and beach erosion, particularly in New Jersey and on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. New Jersey shore towns warned people to move their cars off the streets and away from the water.
Utility companies put additional crews on standby to deal with anticipated power cuts from high winds.
The storm interrupted jury selection in the Boston Marathon bombing case and forced a postponement in opening statements in the murder trial of former NFL star Aaron Hernandez in Massachusetts.
The Washington DC area was expecting only a couple of inches of snow. But the House of Representatives postponed votes scheduled for last night because members were having difficulty flying back to the nation's capital after the weekend.
On Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange said it would operate normally today, but all the Broadway theatres were closed.