WASHINGTON (NBC News) – A massive snowstorm that has already turned deadly churned up the East Coast on Friday afternoon, forecast to transform into an angry blizzard that could bury the nation’s capital under more than 2 feet of snow.
The weekend whiteout has led to more than 6,000 canceled flights and caused at least six deaths.
The sprawling storm will blast snow across 15 states beginning Friday afternoon and evening and continuing well into Sunday, forecasters say. That has prompted rare blizzard warnings not only for Washington, D.C., but also Baltimore, New York City, Philadelphia, Trenton, New Jersey, and Long Island, New York.
“We see this as a major storm. It has life and death implications. And all the residents of the District of Columbia should treat it that way,” Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser said.
The main priority, Bowser said, was to keep people safe, from students to commuters to the homeless. Public schools were closed Friday, the Metro will stop operating at 11 p.m. and outreach workers will try to find shelter for people who would otherwise sleep outside. Federal government workers have been told to leave work at noon Friday, just before the front edge of the blizzard is expected to arrive.
The storm has killed at least ten people, including six in North Carolina who died in traffic accidents on icy roads.
North Carolina Highway Patrol reported 1,200 crashes from midnight Thursday to 5 p.m. Friday. More than 67,000 people were without power in the state as of 5 p.m. Friday, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety said.
Where there weren’t blizzard warnings, there were fears of other dangerous conditions. Various winter weather warnings, watches and advisories were in effect in more than 20 states, from New York to South Carolina to Kansas, the Weather Channel reported. That covers more than 85 million people — more than a quarter of the U.S. population.
The National Weather Service warned of “extremely dangerous travel” conditions and “numerous power outages” across the region. More than 2,500 flights had been canceled as of Friday morning, with thousands likely to follow.
That includes Philadelphia International Airport, which preemptively canceled all Saturday flights in anticipation of up to 18 inches of snow. American Airlines canceled all of its Friday flights out of the Washington, Baltimore and Charlotte, North Carolina, airports.
Amtrak canceled several national services for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, including Crescent service from New York to New Orleans, Cardinal service from New York to Chicago and Silver Meteor service from New York to Miami.
“This is going to be a legitimate blizzard,” said Ari Sarsalari, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel. “Some of these [snow] numbers are absolutely staggering.”
Saturday will be “an absolute mess,” he added, predicting that travel would be “literally impossible anywhere in the Mid-Atlantic region.”
By 3:30 a.m. ET Friday, snow was falling across a crescent stretching from Arkansas through Kentucky and down into North Carolina.
Up to 8 inches of snow was reported in parts of Arkansas, while the Carolinas could expect even more ice. The highest snowfall total at 5 p.m. Friday was in Jonas Ridge, North Carolina, which got 18 inches.
One area where the forecast had changed was New England, which now looked likely to miss out on the snow, save for a possible inch in Boston on Saturday, according to Weather Channel lead forecaster Michael Palmer.
“I think the folks up there are probably used to that, anyway,” he said.