A winter storm began pounding the East Coast with its icy wrath Tuesday, dropping steady snow in the New York and Washington D.C. regions as residents prepared for the historic storm.
The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning affecting almost 20 million people, including New York City. Winter storm watches and warnings were in effect from the mountains of North Carolina to northern Maine, a distance of more than 1,000 miles.
A nor'easter was forecast to rage up the East Coast through most of Tuesday, slamming some areas with more than a foot of snow and wind gusts of 60 mph or more. Much of the storm's energy will be transferred from a weakening storm that pasted the Midwest with snow Sunday and Monday.
The National Weather Service’s office near Philadelphia said the storm was “life-threatening” and warned residents to “shelter in place.”
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“A fairly large area of the Northeast should see a foot or more of snow,” National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Hayes told USA TODAY. He said the bulls-eye for the most snow continues to be southeastern Pennsylvania, northern New Jersey and the Lower Hudson River Valley in New York, which could see 18 inches.
New England was also a target, with the Boston forecast calling for 10 to 16 inches.
President Trump weighed in on Twitter: "Everyone along the east coast be safe and listen to local officials as a major winter storm approaches. @NWShttp://weather.gov ." The U.S. House canceled Tuesday votes and won't reconvene until late Wednesday.
In Chicago, Illinois State Police said snowy weather caused two crashes on an expressway that involved 34 cars.
Nicole Chevalier was restocking shelves with chips at a Harris Teeter supermarket in McLean, Va. Chevalier, who works for Frito-Lay, said all the Tostitos were gone when she arrived at the store Monday.
"People want to eat chips and watch movies since they’ll have to stay at home," she said. "One day before snow, we order up. ... Party-size Doritos also run out fast when there’s snow.”
The forecast brought more chaos to air travel.
By 9 p.m., airlines had canceled 7,635 flights for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, according to FlightAware.com, an online tracking service. The figure represented an increase of 1,000 cancelations since 4:30 p.m.
The total included 1,601 flights Monday with many in Chicago, and 5,165 Tuesday and 599 Wednesday mostly along the East Coast, according to FlightAware.
More than 350,000 airline passengers will be affected by flight cancellations this week from snowstorms in the Midwest and Northeast.
“The storm will cripple air travel in the Northeast” on Tuesday, with thousands of cancellations, including nearly half of those scheduled for Washington’s National and Dulles airports, two-thirds of the flights involving Boston and more than 80% of the flights involving Baltimore-Washington and Newark airports, according to FlightAware.
“We expect a much worse picture tomorrow as the storm heads east,” FlightAware CEO Daniel Baker said of the flight disruptions Monday in Chicago.
Amtrak canceled and modified service up and down the Northeast Corridor. In New York City, the above-ground portions of the subway system were being shut down Tuesday morning.
Hayes said strong winds, with potential gusts of 60 mph, could lead to outages since the heavy, wet snow will cling to power lines.
“This will easily be the most widespread winter event of the season for the northeastern part of the country,” weather service meteorologist Michael Musher noted in an online forecast.
In New York, a coastal flood warning covering the bays of western Long Island and the Atlantic Ocean beachfront will take effect Tuesday morning. New York was among cities that took a pre-emptive strike, announcing Monday that public schools will be closed for the city's 900,000 students. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority anticipates “substantial” service changes across the New York City subway and bus systems, as well as for the commuter rail systems serving the city and its northern and Long Island suburbs.
⚠ Due to expected severe weather conditions, all New York City public schools will be CLOSED tomorrow, Tuesday, March 14, 2017. pic.twitter.com/1fSFz4CMqm— NYC Public Schools (@NYCSchools) March 13, 2017
Once the snow ends, it will likely stick around for awhile. Temperatures are forecast to remain quite chilly through the end of the week.
“Besides the snow, it will be cold,” Mayor Bill de Blasio warned. "We urge you to avoid unnecessary travel and help keep roads clear for sanitation crews and first responders.”
Nelson Rodriguez, who manages the Associated Supermarket on Manhattan's Lower East Side, said the rush for staples such as bread, milk and toilet paper hasn't been too crazy yet. And he said he hopes to be open Tuesday, when the storm will be at its worst.
“We’re going to try," he said. "Some people probably won’t make it, but some people are still going to come and do some shopping.”
Heather McCready, spokeswoman for Whole Foods in the region, said bottled water and bread was flying off the shelves. Ice melting chemicals and firewood was also selling fast, she said.
"We knew in advance that the storm was coming, so we stocked up," she said.
Though some New Yorkers appeared to be in panic mode over the approaching storm, others said they were looking forward to settling down indoors and catching up on movies.
Karin Alexis left the grocery store Monday afternoon with frozen pizza and a few other odds and ends and explained she persuaded her husband, an actor with a recording gig in Connecticut, to stay home on Tuesday.
"I look at it as like the days when my kid was little - it's a snow day," said Alexis, 61. "Nothing is so important that it can't wait a couple of days," she said.
Shopper Cara McCaffrey speculated that many New Yorkers take advantage of the 24-hour nature of the city and grocery shop all the time, therefore having less need to stock up in an emergency.
McCaffrey exited a grocery store with a couple of her own bags that contained lettuce and a few other items.
She said she was not worried about the storm.
"I'm excited about it," said McCaffrey, 49, of Manhattan, explaining she planned to make chicken soup. "I get to stay home and cook food and be with my kids."
In Central Park in Manhattan, dog owners, bikers, runners and walkers faced Monday's cold temperatures as they got in one last adventure outside before Winter Storm hit.
Frances Bridges was led along by her boisterous 5-year-old lab mix, Mocha, and said she expects any walks outside the rest of the week with her pet would be as short as possible.
"She has a lot of energy so I am trying to wear her out a bit," said Bridges, 29, of Manhattan.
Christina Leuchten, who is homeless, sat on the ground on Broadway Monday night in front of a Walgreens store holding a paper cup close to her. She said she planned to ride the subway to stay out of the storm.
"I'll ride the trains," said the 49-year-old who explained she became homeless five years ago after walking out of a domestic violence situation.
"You get some nice people that give up some money," said Leuchten, who is undergoing chemotherapy for stomach cancer. But as luck would have it, Leuchten would not have to ride the trains during Winter Storm. Passersby seemed more generous than usual. While she talked to a reporter, three people dropped money in Leuchten's cup - enough for her to collect $20 - and one gave her a sandwich.
As the first small flakes of snow began to fall late Monday night in New York, employees at the Hotel Newton on Broadway hustled to accommodate guests' changing plans.
Some guests extended their stays and others left early, front desk employee Manny Ramirez said. Still more cancelled, he added. Those who remained were being offered free wifi, he said. Employees were prepared to stay the night. Guests stopped at the front desk regularly with questions.
"Everyone's been asking about the train - the subway," Ramirez said.
Earlier Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced above-ground trains would not run.
Contributing: Kevin McCoy; Melanie Eversley; Ben Mutzabaugh; Associated Press