A band of frigid weather snaking its way up the East Coast of the United States on Sunday, threatened to bring blizzards and a foot (30 centimeters) of snow to New York City and New England, while several states to the South made emergency declarations as the storm caused crashes on slick roads.
Airlines grounded hundreds of flights on Sunday along the Northeast corridor in anticipation of the storm, affecting major airports including New York's JFK and Newark. Airlines said more cancellations were likely as the storm progressed.
The travel travails began a day earlier in parts of the South, where a rare white Christmas came with reports of dozens of car crashes. In Washington transportation officials pre-treated roads and readied 200 salt trucks, plows and other pieces of equipment to fight the 6 inches (15 centimeters) or more of snow expected in the Mid Atlantic region.
The Northeast will probabaly bear the brunt of the storm.
Forecasters issued a blizzard warning for New York City for Sunday and Monday. A blizzard warning was also in effect for Rhode Island and most of eastern Massachusetts including Boston. A blizzard warning is issued when snow is accompanied by sustained winds or gusts over 35 mph (56 kph).
By early Sunday, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina declared states of emergency. "We're urging extreme caution in travel. Try to get home early and if you don't have to travel don't go," Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell told The Weather Channel on Saturday night.
Most air carriers were waiving fees for one time changes in affected areas and urging passengers to make changes through their websites.
The monster storm is the result of a low pressure system that will intensify off the North Carolina coast on Sunday morning and strengthen into a major storm as it moves northeast, according to the National Weather Service. The system gave the Carolinas their first white Christmas in decades. Columbia, South Carolina, had its first significant Christmas snow since weather records were first kept in 1887.
The North Carolina Highway Patrol said late on Saturday that most of the roads in and around Asheville were either covered or partially covered with snow and ice. Emergency management spokeswoman, Julia Jarema said troopers in the two dozen westernmost counties answered 350 calls in 18 hours on Saturday. Most were wrecks.
Lance Cpl. Bill Rhyne, a spokesman for the South Carolina Highway Patrol, said late on Saturday that snow was starting to cover roads but that there were fewer accidents than there would be on a normal night. "Everybody's at home," he said. "It's Christmas. They're heeding the warnings and staying off the roads."
Still, transportation officials in the state had deployed more than 200 plows, salt trucks and other equipment. In Nashville, some travelers who expected a smooth trip on Christmas got a rude surprise. "We were hoping this was going to be a good day to travel," said Heather Bansmer, 36, of Bellingham, Washington. She and her husband, Shawn Breeding, 40, had planned to return home on separate flights after a visit to Breeding's family. But Breeding's flight through Atlanta got canceled and the couple was expecting to spend much of Christmas Day in separate airports.
In Pensacola, Florida, Jena Passut faced a quandary. The 36 year old magazine writer drove with her husband and two kids from Fairfax, Virginia, to visit relatives. On Saturday afternoon she worried about how to get back home amid the snow. "Should we leave on Christmas night? My kids are normally good travelers, but if it's going to take us twice as long, it's going to be hell," she said. "I like a white Christmas as much as anyone, but I don't want to drive in it."