A winter storm packing snow and Arctic cold hit the northeastern United States on Tuesday, grounding 3,000 flights, shutting down governments and schools and making travel a potential nightmare for millions.
States across the northeast declared emergencies and warned residents not to travel during the fast-moving storm, which packed a potentially lethal combination of snow and wind, backed by temperatures 30 degrees Fahrenheit (17 degrees Celsius) below normal.
The system could dump a foot of snow on southern New England and snarl the evening commutes of millions along the I-95 highway corridor from Boston to Washington, said Bruce Sullivan, a senior meteorologist at the National Weather Service.
"Behind this system is a lot of strong winds, (with) very cold, bitter temperatures, so this snow is going to be around for a while," said Bruce Sullivan, senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
He warned that stranded travelers faced potential frostbite or worse. "That's the risk you take if you travel in this kind of weather," Sullivan said.
Hundreds of thousands of federal workers in Washington were ordered to stay home. City schools and offices also closed, and the White House called off its Tuesday press briefing.
But the Supreme Court remained open to hear cases, and organizers of the annual anti-abortion March for Life said Wednesday's rally would go on regardless of weather.
About 3,000 airline flights in the United States were cancelled, according to FlightAware. The bad weather left thousands of air travelers wondering when they were going to get home.
"I rushed to the airport, but (my flight) just got cancelled," said Sumeet Kapoor, 24, a North Carolina State University graduate student who was on his way from Washington's Reagan National Airport to Raleigh, North Carolina.
"I actually had a class at 6, but I'm going to be late, I guess," he said.
Forecaster AccuWeather said the cold front would drop temperatures below freezing as far south as northern Florida.
While the polar front grips the eastern United States, the western half will see above-average temperatures as a drought worsens, the National Weather Service said.
Sullivan, the meteorologist, said the cold snap would be followed by two more polar fronts through the weekend. One would hit the Great Lakes region, and the other the upper Great Plains, he said.