Winter Storm Stella unleashed its fury on much of the northeastern US on Tuesday, dropping snow and sleet across the region and forcing school closures and thousands of flight cancellations.
Stella – the most powerful winter storm of the season – was forecast to dump up to 61cm of snow in New York and whip the area with combined with winds of up to 96km per hour), causing treacherous whiteout conditions.
The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a 24-hour blizzard warning from midnight Monday (0400 GMT Tuesday) for a region stretching north into Connecticut and south into New Jersey that includes New York City.
The storm however affects a densely populated area from Maine to Virginia, and as far west as Ohio.
More than 6 800 US flights were cancelled for Monday and Tuesday, with airports in New York, Boston, Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia hardest hit, according to the tracking service FlightAware.
In Connecticut, the governor announced a statewide travel ban, as residents across the affected region were urged to stay off the roads.
The forecast postponed the first meeting between President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington until Friday.
In New York, UN headquarters announced it would close, a disruption for the thousands of delegates expected to attend a women’s conference.
In the financial markets, much of Wall Street was expected to work from home with low trade volume anticipated, due partly to Wednesday’s decision from the Federal Reserve on whether to raise interest rates.
In Washington, the National Park Service warned that the cold could wipe out up to 90 percent of the capital’s beloved cherry blossoms.
One popular meme on social media was a clip of actor Marlon Brando in his famous cry of “Stella!” from the steamy 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire.
Schools will close in New York, parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, as well as in the US capital and northern Virginia.
In New York City, home to 8.4 million people, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency from midnight Monday.
Trump, facing the first major weather event of his presidency after a mild winter, said he had spoken to Homeland Security and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was ready to provide assistance.
“Everybody in government is fully prepared and ready,” he said.
“Let’s hope it’s not going to be as bad as some people are predicting. Usually it isn’t.”
But de Blasio wasn’t taking any chances, with 16 to 24 inches of snow forecast and accumulation as quick as two to four inches an hour.
“High end could be as much as 24 inches which would therefore put this in the category of one of the biggest snowstorms in recent memory,” he said.
In 2016 New York experienced the biggest snowstorm in the city’s history, with a record 27.3 inches falling in Central Park in 24 hours. That storm paralysed parts of the Northeast and left 18 people dead.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions, said it would close all three of its locations Tuesday.
Winter Storm Stella formed near the coast, the collision of two low pressure systems expected to dump the heaviest snow on New York, parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Vermont.
“We’re expecting it to be the worst snow of the season,” NWS meteorologist Melissa Di Spigna told AFP, following winter temperatures “well above normal” this year.
The NWS cautioned that the storm could bring record low temperatures, as well as “difficult travel and power outages.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo instructed residents to have seven to 10 days’ supply of food and an emergency supply of bottled water.
In the city, the subway will be suspended above ground and express services will end at midnight, with bus and commuter rail services into Long Island and north of the city also likely to be suspended.