People in Washington and Baltimore bundled up and hunkered down Friday to endure a winter storm that has "life and death implications." New York is preparing for the worst.
The message from every official: Stay off the roads.
The nation's capital was the first major urban center to feel the wrath of a monster storm that lashed the South and Mid-Atlantic and then barreled north. More than 85 million people are in its path, about 30 million of whom are under blizzard warnings. Air travel on the East Coast came to a standstill and more than 70,000 customers lost electricity.
The snow arrived in Washington on Friday afternoon, with 2½ feet possible by the time the last flakes fall Saturday night, according to Mayor Muriel Bowser. Many federal, state and local offices closed early in preparation for the storm.
"It has life and death implications, and (people) should treat it that way," Bowser warned Washington residents. "People should hunker down, shelter in place and stay off the roads."
Chris Geldart of the District of Columbia's emergency management agency said salt was helping with major arterial roads, but snow was accumulating by midafternoon.
"People need to understand the gravity of what is coming our way," he said. "This is a dangerous storm. It is time to be indoors."
Baltimore may get 18-21 inches, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said it will make auto travel "hazardous if not impossible." She also urged residents to stay off the roads for their own safety and to make snow removal easier.
"We need people to have common sense and patience," she said.
Wind will be another problem.
Forecasts call for sustained winds of up to 30 mph and gusts of 10 or more mph stronger. Gusts could hit 65 mph between 1 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday in Maryland, the National Weather Service warned.
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a weather emergency declaration from 8 a.m. until midnight Saturday. He urged residents to avoid driving. Vehicles blocking roadways are subject to towing.
"From delivering extra meals for homebound seniors to de-icing our roads and bridges, we are taking every step to prepare our five boroughs for the coming snowfall," he said.
Meteorologists warned the public to take heed.
"This is not a near miss," CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said. "This is a direct hit."
Tennessee and North Carolina got hit first early Friday, with snow covering the ground in cities like Asheville, Charlotte and Greensboro.
On Friday morning, the National Weather Service extended its blizzard warning to include Philadelphia and New York. Upward of 10 million people live in those three areas; millions more in parts of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey are under the same advisory.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said trucks, snow movers and personnel are being moved to the south part of the state in anticipation of the storm. He urged residents to be prepared for the worst, saying, "I have a shovel in my trunk."
NASA is releasing amazing images of what the Blizzard of 2016 looks like from space.
Storm, ice pummels Southeast
More than 6,500 U.S. flights, about 2,965 on Friday and another 3,590 on Saturday, have been canceled across the nation, the flight tracking website FlightAware reported around 5 p.m. Friday.
Most airports in the Mid-Atlantic virtually shut down. United Airlines, for instance, said operations at Dulles and D.C. metro airports were suspended, with plans to resume limited flights on Sunday night.
United Flight 374 partially rolled off the runway at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago after arriving from San Francisco, according to Charlie Hobart with United Airlines. Nobody was injured, he said, and weather appeared to be a factor.
The massive storm already has dumped an icy blotch of freezing rain, sleet or snow from Oklahoma through Tennessee. And while the focus is on points north, it has caused lots of trouble in the South as well.
That includes severe thunderstorms in Florida; up to 7 inches of snow in Nashville, Tennessee; and a winter storm warning Friday afternoon into Saturday night for parts of North Georgia and South Carolina. The system also slammed Kentucky and West Virginia, and parts of both could see over a foot -- and as much as 3 feet -- of snow.
Almost 72,000 customers have lost power, mostly in the Carolinas.
Nearly 30,000 customers of Duke Energy, the power utility for much of North Carolina, were without power early Friday afternoon. Dominion Virginia reported about 900 such outages, though Dominion official Kevin Curtis warned that "widespread, multiday outages" are possible.
About 2,000 customers lost power in Tennessee, mostly in Davidson County, the state emergency management agency reported. The Red Cross placed a number of shelters along interstate highways on standby.
Kentucky declared a state of emergency, even though the worst of the storm had passed, to make emergency services easier to deliver. Interstate 75 was shut down because of multiple crashes, the Kentucky State Patrol Facebook page said.
Across the Southeast on Friday, there were no classes, or students headed home early, just in time for the weekend. Places like Charlotte, North Carolina, looked like ghost towns, as people heeded warnings to stay off the roads.
"I'm glad people are staying in, because it's very treacherous here," Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said.
That's a good thing because, according to North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, there's only so much authorities can do, given the slick mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain blanketing the state.
He said the bad weather already has caused at least four auto deaths. It has also forced the postponement of hundreds of events -- including NBA games in Philadelphia and Washington, plus an NHL contest in the nation's capital, as well as a rally for the Carolina Panthers ahead of their NFC professional football championship in Charlotte. Some fans from Arizona, the home of the Panthers' foe, flew out early to make Sunday's title contest, AZ Central reported.
But McCrory predicted a good outcome for his home team, which practiced Friday in the snow: "I don't anticipate anything stopping the Carolina Panthers from getting to the Super Bowl," the governor said.
'Hardest snowstorm' in memory in Virginia
As the winter storm moves north, snow becomes more and more of a concern.
In Virginia, state government offices and schools shut down ahead of the storm. Gov. Terry McAuliffe told CNN on Friday morning that some 25,000 personnel with 13,000 pieces of equipment, 650,000 tons of salt and 2 million gallons of liquid salt are positioned strategically around the state.
"I'm very concerned about Northern Virginia," said McAuliffe, who indicated he could shut down Interstate 81, which runs through the middle of the state. "We're looking at anywhere from 1 to 3 feet of snow."
The governor also expressed concerns about people in rural areas and the elderly, saying helping them will be part of the mission for the 500 National Guard members he's activated for the storm.
From her home just outside Lynchburg, Tracy Batwinas said the storm, coming after what has been a mild winter, has jostled many people. Her husband had to circle many times to get a parking spot outside a local Kroger grocery store, and once he got inside, he found that staples like eggs, bread, milk and more had been cleared off the shelves.
By 9 a.m., snow was coming down fast -- "the hardest snowstorm that I can remember ever seeing," said Batwinas, 53, who was born and raised in Virginia. Still, while many are worried, she's looking forward to "a play date" with her husband of four years and their two golden retrievers.
The good news -- besides whatever fun those not in harm's way can have on a snow day -- is that things should get better soon.
"Next week, it's going to be in the high 40s," McAuliffe told CNN's "New Day." "... We can get back to normalcy very quickly. ... But please don't get out on the roads (now) if you don't have to."
Washington may set snow record
That's the line of the day from authorities: Stay off the roads, stay home, stay safe.
CNN's Myers said Washington and Baltimore should see 20 to 30 inches of snow, Philadelphia could get 18 to 20 inches, and New York is looking at 8 to 10 inches. And it'll be a double whammy when combined with the powerful winds. None of it will pile up evenly, though, given all the wind.
"We just want to go," Andrea Levine told CNN affiliate WRIC after trying and failing to fly out early from Richmond, Virginia, to the Virgin Islands. "We just want to be on vacation."
One saving grace, New York City emergency spokesman Frank McCarton said, is that the worst of this will happen on the weekend when there will be fewer people out.
But wherever they are, people still need power in the middle of winter. And with the weight of so much snow and ice falling at once over the weekend, "we're concerned that we will perhaps get some collapsed roofs," Washington emergency management spokesman Chris Geldart said.
Washington could very well break its all-time snow record. Twenty-eight inches fell in the "Knickerbocker Storm" of 1922, named after a theater that collapsed under the weight of snow, killing 100 people.