WASHINGTON—With long lead time from forecasters and stern warnings from authorities, tens of millions of residents from northern Georgia to New Jersey shuttered themselves inside to wait out a mammoth storm that made travel treacherous and could dump 2 feet or more of snow in some areas.
Snow started falling Friday, but the worst was still yet to come, with strong winds and heavy snow expected to produce “life-threatening blizzard conditions” throughout Saturday, according to the National Weather Service’s website. Forecasters also predicted up to a half-inch of ice accumulation in the Carolinas, and potentially serious coastal flooding in the mid-Atlantic.
In Kentucky, motorists were stranded along Interstate 75 south of Lexington early Saturday, and state police said on Twitter that its crews, emergency workers and the National Guard were making their way to cars with water, fuel, and snacks, and attempting to move cars one at a time. Police said the road was closed, but didn’t give details or immediately answer phone calls and emails seeking comment.
It was unclear how many vehicles were stranded, but photos from local media outlets showed a long line of trucks and other vehicles lined up along the snowy road. Among them was local TV reporter Caitlin Centner, who told her station, WKYT-TV, in a segment aired from her news van that it was a crazy experience, with wind and snow building as drivers turn off cars to save gas.
Traffic Update: I-75 in Rockcastle Co is open. We encourage motorists to STAY OFF the roads during ‘state of emergency’ order
— KY State Police (@kystatepolice) January 23, 2016
“Every time it looks like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, more accidents and slide-offs are occurring,” she said.
Centner interviewed Rebekah Sams, who was stranded making her way to a volleyball tournament. Sams described snow blowing amid a complete standstill and said, “You never imagine yourself being out here for five hours during a snowstorm.”
According to the National Weather Service’s website early Saturday, 18 inches of snow already had fallen on Ulysses in eastern Kentucky, while 16 inches fell in Beattyville. Between 14 inches to 15.5 inches had fallen in at other locations across Kentucky, including Frenchburg, Mount Vernon, Eglon and Lancer.
The weather service said 7 inches of snow had fallen in Washington, D.C. while snowfall amounts in nearby Maryland ranged between 4.5 inches in Baltimore and 13.5 inches in Oakland. In Virginia, Reagan National Airport reported 6.8 inches of snow and Elma had 15 inches.
Other states that recorded snowfall amounts greater than 6 inches included Delaware, Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. Various locations in Georgia and Alabama received between 1 and 3.5 inches of snow.
In New Jersey, 40,000 people were without power early Saturday, most of them along the coast.
Even before the snow began to fall Friday afternoon, states of emergency were declared, lawmakers went home, and schools, government offices and transit systems closed early from as far south as Georgia to as far north as New York City.
The ice and snow made travel treacherous, with thousands of accidents and at least nine deaths reported along the region’s roadways. By late Friday, Virginia State Police had reported 989 car crashes statewide since the storm began, and had assisted nearly 800 disabled vehicles, said Ken Schrad, spokesman for the Virginia State Police Joint Information Center.
— Lexi Vranick (@lexivranick) January 22, 2016
In Kentucky, Mike Edmonds was stuck at a truck stop Friday as snow piled up around him, not daring to venture his big rig out of the slick parking lot and onto an interstate strewn with wrecked vehicles.
“We’ve got trucks here that literally cannot get out,” Edmonds said by phone. “We’re spinning. It’s not worth even getting out on the road.”
In Washington, the federal government closed its offices at noon, and all mass transit was shutting down through Sunday. President Barack Obama, hunkering down at the White House, was one of many who stayed home.
“Find a safe place and stay there,” Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser implored residents and visitors alike.
About 7,600 flights were canceled Friday and Saturday—about 15 percent of the airlines’ schedules, according to the flight tracking service FlightAware. They hope to be fully back in business by Sunday afternoon.
One of the unlucky travelers stranded by the storm was Jennifer Bremer of Raleigh, North Carolina. Bremer flew into Chicago on Thursday morning, carrying only a briefcase, for what she thought would be less than a day of meetings. Her flight home was canceled Thursday night, and then again Friday.
“I have my computer, my phone and a really good book, but no clothing,” Bremer said as she eyed flight boards at O’Hare International Airport on Friday. “I have a travel agent right now trying to get creative. I’m waiting on a phone call from her. … I’m trying to get somewhere near the East Coast where I can drive in tonight or early tomorrow morning.”
— Don Uselmann (@DonUselmann) January 23, 2016
Not so unhappy to be stranded were passengers on a cruise ship that was supposed to return to the port of Baltimore from the Bahamas on Sunday. The arrival has now been delayed until at least Monday because of the storm.
“I was not totally surprised and, frankly, happy to be delayed,” Meg Ryan, one of the passengers aboard the Royal Caribbean International’s Grandeur of the Seas, wrote in an email to The Associated Press.
“First, it is an extra day of vacation, but more importantly, safety comes first and travel Sunday would be difficult, if not impossible.”
Forecasters said as much as 2 feet or more of snowfall was forecast for Baltimore and Washington, and nearly as much for Philadelphia.
By Friday night, parts of Kentucky, the Virginias and North Carolina had already received well over a foot of snow, while more than a half a foot had fallen in some areas of Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Tennessee.
The snowstorm was greeted happily at Virginia’s ski resorts.
“We’re thrilled,” said Hank Thiess, general manager at Wintergreen ski resort in central Virginia. “Going forward, we’re set up to have just a terrific second half of the ski season.”
He said he’s expecting 40 inches of dry, powdery snow, perfect for skiing.
“We’re going to have a packed snow surface that will just be outstanding,” he said.