East Coast, including Washington, braces for expected blizzard

Latest developments:

• Philadelphia is under a blizzard watch from Friday evening into Sunday morning, according to the National Weather Service. With Philadelphia joining Washington, Baltimore and New York, nearly 30 million people on the East Coast now face blizzard watches, which is defined as the potential for falling or blowing snow coupled with strong winds and poor visibility.

• Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a state of emergency ahead of an expected blizzard, ordering public schools closed Friday. In addition, authorities have been given the OK to move any vehicle that is found on a snow emergency route.

• North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has declared a state of emergency and plans to activate his state’s emergency response team ahead of the storm. Two people died in crashes on snowy North Carolina roads late Wednesday, according to the governor’s office, though a bigger and worst storm is expected to start hitting the state later Thursday.

Full story:

Communities on the East Coast braced Thursday for what could be the winter’s biggest storm yet — or could peter out, depending on how the system moves, where you are and what falls from the sky.

About 75 million people are in the storm’s path. Severe weather, including tornadoes, could hit the Gulf states Thursday, and some of the country’s most populous cities could see blizzard-like conditions.

That would mean winds as strong as 60 mph, coastal storm surges and flooding on top of whatever precipitation will fall. And it could be a lot.

“It’s not out of the question that some localized areas receive over 2 feet of fresh snow,” CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said.

Washington could see the most. Starting Friday afternoon and into Saturday night, up to 30 inches could fall in the nation’s capital.

Warmup act

While such conditions are hardly unprecedented in Washington, residents’ concerns about the city’s ability to handle it could seem justified, given what happened Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.

A relatively light dusting left the metropolitan area a slippery mess along mostly untreated roads.

Virginia State Police untangled accidents by the hundreds Wednesday evening and early Thursday. An officer was hurt in one of the crashes, and a person was killed in another. Commutes home turned into hours-long affairs. Many drivers didn’t get home until well after midnight.

Even the commander in chief had to reckon with the wintry mix. Video shows President Barack Obama’s motorcade using hazard lights Wednesday as it made its slippery way from Joint Base Andrews to the White House. He was unable to fly on Marine One because of the weather.

Thursday morning’s drive was similarly frustrating, as some icy spots lingered and commuters left early to allow plenty of time for the ride in.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser asked everyone to stay off the roads so crews could treat them. But the damage was done, and she later apologized for the city’s “inadequate response.”

“We believe that we did not provide adequate resources at a time when it could (have made) a difference in last evening’s commute,” she told reporters. “We should have been out with more resources.”

Hope is to be ‘overprepared,’ then ‘underwhelmed’

Still, everyone realizes that this dusting is nothing, compared with the much larger, much more powerful system on the doorstep.

States from Oklahoma east to the Atlantic Coast hunkered down Thursday as ice, snow and then some rolled through. Ward, the CNN meteorologist, warned that 1 to 2 feet of snow could fall “from eastern Kentucky across West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and into southern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.”

For many, it’s still up in the air what will fall: Little Rock, Arkansas, for instance could see rain, sleet and even snow thunder overnight in addition to heavy snow, according to the weather service.

North Carolina likewise could see a wintry mix, with up to 8 inches of snow in Asheville and significant icing in Charlotte. Gov. Pat McCrory said that his state is doing “everything we can” to prepare and get public safety personnel ready in case the worse scenarios come true.

“Our goal with this potential winter storm … is to be overprepared and hopefully underwhelmed,” the governor said.

One thing all the states in this storm’s path can expect is heavy wind. Strong gusts, combined with accumulating snow or ice, could knock out power to many amid subfreezing temperatures — a prospect that Bowser called “my biggest concern.”

Shelves cleared around Washington metro area

Nearly 2 feet of snow fell in February 2010’s “Snowmageddon” storm, which cut power to hundreds of thousands in the region.

For this weekend’s storm to be one of historic proportions, snow accumulations in Washington would have to top 28 inches.

That would exceed the calamitous “Knickerbocker Storm” of 1922, which dumped 28 inches and killed nearly 100 people when the roof of a theater by that name collapsed under the weight of the snow.

While Washington appears to be in the storm’s bull’s-eye, most of the Mid-Atlantic states — and a few points west — will take a hit from the storm system. Still, there’s a lot of uncertainty about how much snow cities like New York, Philadelphia and Boston will end up seeing.

Residents in and around the nation’s capital, though, weren’t taking any chances. They slammed grocery stores ahead of the storm, with beer, bread and milk quickly cleared off many shelves.

Heaters, shovels and sleds sold at a frenzied pace at Strosniders Hardware in Silver Spring, Maryland. Ice melt chemical? Gone, too.

“They know (the storm is) coming,” manager Roy Washington told CNN affiliate WJLA. “They hear the forecast, and they want to be prepared for it.”

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