Snow blanketed much of the northeastern United States Tuesday, grounding thousands of flights and causing chaos on the roads as forecasters warned that a brutal cold spell was on its way, AFP reports.
Downtown Washington fell eerily silent after the federal government, seeing the swift-moving storm approaching, closed its doors and told civil servants -- who already had the day off Monday for the Martin Luther King holiday -- to stay home.
Many offices and schools followed suit, as 20 mile (32 kilometer) per hour winds whipped through the US capital's unusually quiet streets.
Washington's Metro public transit system reported half as many riders as on a typical weekday, and business was so slow that many restaurants used Twitter to woo customers with bargain-priced drinks while others offered customers 2-for-1 deals.
The "storm system will strengthen overnight in the Atlantic waters off the East Coast, spreading heavy snow and strong wind into coastal sections of New England and the Northeast," the National Weather Service said.
"Blizzard conditions are possible in eastern Massachusetts," it added.
Meanwhile, temperatures across the eastern part of the country will be 10 to 25 degrees below average, amid "bitter wind chills," it warned.
FlightAware, a website that monitors air traffic in real time, said nearly 3,000 flights into, out of or within the United States had been canceled Tuesday.
The lion's share of affected flights involved busy airports in the New York, Philadelphia and Washington areas.
Seven inches (18 centimeters) of snow had fallen at Washington's Dulles International Airport while some 11 inches were reported at the Philadelphia International Airport, according to AccuWeather, a private forecasting service.
Accumulations of six to 12 inches were expected over the mid-Atlantic to southeastern New England, it said.
National rail company Amtrak said it would operate "a modified schedule" Wednesday on its Northeast Corridor line between Washington and Boston, as well as on two other routes in the hard-hit region.
In New York, a storm alert remained in effect until 6:00 am (1100 GMT) Wednesday with as much as a foot (30 centimeters) forecast for the metropolitan region.
States of emergency were declared there, as well as in New Jersey and Delaware, according to CNN.
More than 1,700 plows were to be mobilized in New York Tuesday night to clear up to 10 inches of snow, it reported.
"For your safety and the safety of emergency responders, motorists are strongly urged to avoid unnecessary travel at this time," the New York State Department of Transportation said.
Across the Hudson River, New Jersey went ahead with its mid-day inauguration ceremony for re-elected governor Chris Christie, who is battling allegations he used his office to bully political foes.
But an evening gala on historic Ellis Island in New York Harbor to mark the start of his new term in office was scrapped due to the storm.
Schools across the Northeast either closed for the day or told parents to expect their youngsters to be dismissed from class earlier than usual. Closures in many areas were extended through Wednesday. Meanwhile, courthouses called off proceedings in the afternoon.
What the National Weather Service called a "fast moving but potent" snowstorm had earlier dumped seven inches of snow on airports in the Chicago area, before temperatures fell to the freezing level.