Snow, high winds and a glacial chill hit the northeastern United States on Friday as a blast of brutal wintry weather bore down on many states and major cities, snarling air traffic.
Some major highways were ordered shut down overnight and tracking system FlightAware said that some 2,200 flights within, into or out of the United States had been cancelled.
Temperatures in New York were expected to drop to minus 13 degrees Celsius, according to forecasts.
The National Weather Service issued winter storm warnings and advisories for a huge area spanning states from Chicago trough New York, New England and even the US capital, Washington DC.
Classes were suspended, extending Christmas break for some students.
Severe weather was also hitting the country’s Midwest, dropping a blanket of snow and cancelling flights at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
The northeastern winter warning was in effect in New York from Thursday evening through midday on Friday, with forecasters predicting 10-20cm of snow and winds that could reach up to 56km/h, presenting a first test for New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, who took office on Wednesday.
De Blasio said the city had “laser” focus as it braced for what was to come. “We are ready,” he said. “We have all hands on deck.”
But he warned residents to stay off the streats. “Please, starting this evening, stay inside. If you don’t need to go out, don’t go out,” de Blasio said.
New York City residents were urged to stay off the streets so the Sanitation Department could work. Officials said that 450 salt spreaders had been out since early Thursday morning and 1,700 sanitation trucks had been outfitted with ploughs.
But Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty said that even with all the equipment the city had deployed, his agency faced a tough task as it worked to clear the streets through the night. “A lot of people expect in New York City to see blacktop all the time,” Doherty said. “It’s going to take us a while.”
The National Weather Service said blizzard conditions were possible for eastern Long Island and the coast of Massachusetts. “Bitter cold will move into the Midwest and East following the storm,” it warned.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo activated the State Emergency Operations Center and also urged people to use mass transit, warning of possible highway closures due to inclement weather.
In neighbouring New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie declared a state of emergency in anticipation of what was to come.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, meanwhile, ordered state employees to leave work early on Thursday to alleviate the evening commute. Workers were not expected back at their desks until mid-morning.
Officials also warned about the risk of freezing or hypothermia due to the bitter cold that was expected to set it.
In Boston, the heavy weather began rolling in just a few days before Boston Mayor Thomas Menino ends 20 years in office.
Menino announced a parking ban and said schools would be closed Friday in Boston, where up to 36cm of snow was originally forecast. “What a New Year’s gift, to receive one last snowstorm as mayor,” said Menino, whose successor takes office Monday.
The weather service issued a blizzard warning for Cape Cod, coastal areas north and south of Boston and part of Maine.
As the storm approached, a worker at a suburban salt storage facility in Philadelphia, southwest of New York, was killed Thursday afternoon when a 30-metre-tall pile of road salt fell and crushed him. Police said the man was trapped while operating a backhoe. There was no immediate word on what may have caused the accident.