'˜Snowmageddon' all over again as major blizzard hits America

A massive blizzard swirled toward the eastern United States yesterday, one that the National Weather Service said could rank near the top ten to ever hit the region.

Snow piles up outside the US Capitol building in Washington as the city feels the chill. Picture: Getty
Snow piles up outside the US Capitol building in Washington as the city feels the chill. Picture: Getty

With more than two feet of snow predicted for Washington alone, schools were closed, flights were cancelled and a state of emergency was declared across a vast area.

NWS meteorologist Paul Kocin compared the storm to “Snowmageddon”, the first of two storms that “wiped out” Washington in 2010 and dumped up to 30 inches of snow, but said the weekend timing and the days of warning could help limit deaths and damage.

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“It does have the potential to be an extremely dangerous storm that can affect more than 50 million people,” Louis Uccellini, director of the weather service, said.

He said all the elements have come together to create a blizzard with brutally high winds, dangerous inland flooding, white-out conditions and even the possibility of thunder snow, when lightning strikes through a snowstorm.

The snowfall, expected to continue into tomorrow, could easily cause more than $1 billion in damage and paralyse the eastern third of the nation, Mr Uccellini said.

Snowfall as heavy as one to three inches an hour could continue for 24 hours or more, said Mr Kocin. In addition to Washington, 12-18 inches of snow was predicted for Philadelphia and eight to 12 inches was expected in New York.

A state of emergency was declared in Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and parts of other states, and road crews were out in force. Blizzard warnings or watches were in effect along the storm’s path, from Arkansas through Tennessee and Kentucky to the mid-Atlantic states and as far north as New York.

Schools and government offices were closed, thousands of flights were cancelled, and food and supplies flew off store shelves as millions of people stocked up. College basketball games and concerts were postponed.

Washington looks like the eye of the blizzard, and New York City is just inside the slow-moving storm’s sharp northern edge, which means it is likely to see heavy accumulations, Mr Kocin said.