Weather forecasters have warned that "an all-out blizzard" along the East Coast of the US could be "life-threatening." Five states have declared an emergency, as more than 2 feet (60 cm) of snow is predicted.
The National Weather Service (NWS) posted a blizzard warning on Friday for an area stretching from northern Virginia in the south to New York City in the north-east. The blizzard announcement warns that the storm could affect millions across major cities including Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia, and that the warning would be in effect until Saturday morning local time.
A winter storm warning has also been placed beyond the blizzard warning zone, and includes much of the eastern part of the country.
The US-based Weather Channel has said more than 85 million people and 20 states were included in the winter weather warning.
Mayor Muriel Bowser has warned his Washington residents that one of the worst storms in its history could have "life-and-death implications and all the residents of the District of Columbia should treat it that way."
Meanwhile, public transportation had halted and government offices closed early on Friday when snow began to blanket the area. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama would stay at his official residence during the blizzard.
"Areas from Baltimore and Washington, DC, to near Philadelphia can expect an all-out blizzard with snowfall averaging 12-24 inches (30-60 cm)," Accuweather said.
Flights canceled, schools closed
According to flight tracking website FlightAware, US Airlines have canceled more than 7,000 flights for Friday and Saturday. In addition, schools were closed before the storm and shelves on grocery stores were stripped bare, as people prepared for the worst. Power outages are expected for the winter weather warning zone.
NWS meteorologist Paul Kocin compared the winter storm to the "Snowmageddon" that hit the capital in 2010.
smm/bw (dpa, AP, AFP, Reuters)