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New York and Washington grind to a halt after heavy snowfall

Published 23/01/2016

USA: A bulldozer clears snow on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol January 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. Heavy snow continued to fall in the Mid-Atlantic region causing "life-threatening blizzard conditions" and affecting millions of people. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
USA: A bulldozer clears snow on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol January 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. Heavy snow continued to fall in the Mid-Atlantic region causing "life-threatening blizzard conditions" and affecting millions of people. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 24: A snowplow clears snow in front of the U.S. Capitol on January 24, 2016 in Washington, DC. The blizzard that has brought massive snowfall and a standstill to the East Coast and the Mid Atlantic region has stopped. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
People walk on Pennsylvania Avenue in near whiteout conditions in Washington on January 23, 2016. A deadly blizzard walloped the eastern United States on Saturday, paralyzing Washington and New York under a heavy blanket of snow as officials warned millions of people to remain indoors until the storm eases up. / AFP / MANDEL NGANMANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
People participate in a giant snowball fights in Dupont Circle in Washington on January 24, 2016. Snowball fights have become a tradition after every major snow storm in the Nation's Capital. A massive blizzard that claimed at least 16 lives in the eastern United States finally appeared to be winding down Sunday, giving snowbound residents the chance to begin digging out. AFP / Olivier DoulieryOLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP/Getty Images
People participate in a giant snowball fights in Dupont Circle in Washington on January 24, 2016. Snowball fights have become a tradition after every major snow storm in the Nation's Capital. A massive blizzard that claimed at least 16 lives in the eastern United States finally appeared to be winding down Sunday, giving snowbound residents the chance to begin digging out. /AFP / Olivier DoulieryOLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP/Getty Images
A worker clears snow off the driveway of a car wash on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, DC on January 24, 2016. A massive blizzard that claimed at least 16 lives in the eastern United States finally appeared to be winding down on January 24, giving snowbound residents the chance to begin digging out. / AFP / MANDEL NGANMANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 23: A woman walks in strong winds and heavy snow fall in Central Park on January 23, 2016 in New York City. A major Nor'easter is hitting much of the East Coast and parts of the South as forecasts warn of up to two feet of snow in some areas. (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)
Snow-covered cars are seen on a residential street in the northwest of Washington, DC on January 24, 2016. A massive blizzard that claimed at least 16 lives in the eastern United States finally appeared to be winding down Sunday, giving snowbound residents the chance to begin digging out. / AFP / MANDEL NGANMANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
The clear up continues in New York City following yesterday's record-setting snowfall which left at least 18 people dead and brought much of the US East Coast to an icy standstill. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Ronnie Esplin/PA Wire
The Spring Street salt shed is filled with salt before an upcoming snowstorm on January 21, 2016 in New York, NY. Winter Storm Jonas was expected to hit New York City between Friday afternoon and Saturday morning and the National Weather Service recently included New York City on a blizzard watch. (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)
Visitors to New York's Central Park pass the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in the wake of a storm that dumped heavy snow along the East Coast. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
The New York Skyline is seen from Exchange Place on January 24, 2016 in Jersey City. A massive blizzard that claimed at least 16 lives in the eastern United States finally appeared to be winding down Sunday, giving snowbound residents the chance to begin digging out. / AFP / KENA BETANCURKENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images

A blizzard with hurricane-force winds brought much of the US East Coast to a standstill on Saturday, dumping as much as three feet of snow, stranding tens of thousands of travellers and shutting down Washington and New York City.

After days of weather warnings, most of the 80 million people in the storm's path heeded requests to stay home and off the roads, which were largely deserted. But more was yet to come, with dangerous conditions expected to persist until early Sunday.

In addition to snow and treacherous winds, the National Weather Service predicted up to half an inch of ice for the Carolinas and potentially serious coastal flooding for the mid-Atlantic region.

''This is going to be one of those generational events, where your parents talk about how bad it was,'' Ryan Maue, a meteorologist for WeatherBell Analytics, said from Tallahassee, Florida, which also got some flakes.

Snow fell from the Gulf Coast to the northeastern New England states. In nearly two dozen places, it passed the 20-inch mark by late morning, according to the weather service. Terra Alta, West Virginia, reported 28 inches.

At least 11 deaths were blamed on the weather, most from traffic accidents. The ice and snow made travel treacherous, causing thousands of accidents and cancelling nearly 4,300 flights on Saturday, the bulk of them at airports in the New York City and Washington metro areas. Another 1,235 flights were cancelled for Sunday, according to flight tracking service Flight Aware. Airlines hoped to be back in business by Sunday afternoon.

The long-anticipated storm exceeded expectations, so forecasters increased their snow predictions for New York and points north.

The new estimates were for heavy snow all the way up to just south of Boston, forecaster Patrick Burke said from the weather service's Weather Prediction Centre in College Park, Maryland.

Eighteen to 24 inches were predicted for Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia; and 15 to 20 inches for New York, Burke said. Some areas outside the major cities could get up to 30 inches.

''This is kind of a top 10 snowstorm,'' said weather service winter storm expert Paul Kocin, who co-wrote a two-volume textbook on blizzards. And for New York and Washington this looks like top five, he said. ''It's a big one.''

Donald Walker waits to cross the street with crusted snow and ice in his beard and hair, as the snow continues to fall, Friday, Jan. 22, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Donald Walker waits to cross the street with crusted snow and ice in his beard and hair, as the snow continues to fall, Friday, Jan. 22, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Pedestrians are seen in front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, as snow continues to fall on January 22, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
Ndimyake Mwakalyelye cleans off her car after getting off work, as the snow continues to fall, Friday, Jan. 22, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Ben Cichy pulls a sled with his sons Adrian, 18-months-old, and Logan 3, inside as they head for sledding in the snow on Capitol Hill, Friday, Jan. 22, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
A worker clears the snow from the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court as the snow continues to fall, Friday, Jan. 22, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
A woman crosses K Street in Washington, DC, as snow continues to fall on January 22, 2016. A monster blizzard threatening the US East Coast slammed into Washington on January 22, blanketing the nation's capital in snow as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter, warning the worst was yet to come. AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGANMANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
A snow-covered car is seen in a parking lot in front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, as snow continues to fall on January 22, 2016. A monster blizzard threatening the US East Coast slammed into Washington on January 22, blanketing the nation's capital in snow as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter, warning the worst was yet to come. AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGANMANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
A statue is seen in front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, as snow continues to fall on January 22, 2016. A monster blizzard threatening the US East Coast slammed into Washington on January 22, blanketing the nation's capital in snow as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter, warning the worst was yet to come. AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGANMANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
A woman walks past a storefront in the Georgetown neighbourhood of Washington, DC, as snow continues to fall on January 22, 2016. A monster blizzard threatening the US East Coast slammed into Washington on January 22, blanketing the nation's capital in snow as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter, warning the worst was yet to come. AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGANMANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
A man clears snow from the sidewalk in front of a pub in the Georgetown neighbourhood of Washington, DC, as snow continues to fall on January 22, 2016. A monster blizzard threatening the US East Coast slammed into Washington on January 22, blanketing the nation's capital in snow as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter, warning the worst was yet to come. AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGANMANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
A couple takes a walk at Lafayette Square outside the White House during a snowstorm in downtown Washington, DC on January 22, 2016. A monster blizzard threatening the US East Coast slammed into Washington on January 22, blanketing the nation's capital in snow as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter, warning the worst was yet to come. AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOVMLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
A Secret Service Agent and his service dog inspect a snow plow outside the White House during a snowstorm in downtown Washington, DC on January 22, 2016. A monster blizzard threatening the US East Coast slammed into Washington on January 22, blanketing the nation's capital in snow as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter, warning the worst was yet to come. AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOVMLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
The back of a US Park Police vehicle covered with snow and ice is seen during a snowstorm in downtown Washington, DC on January 22, 2016. A monster blizzard threatening the US East Coast slammed into Washington on January 22, blanketing the nation's capital in snow as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter, warning the worst was yet to come. AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOVMLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
US Secret Service Agents stand guard outside the White House during a snowstorm in downtown Washington, DC on January 22, 2016. A monster blizzard threatening the US East Coast slammed into Washington on January 22, blanketing the nation's capital in snow as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter, warning the worst was yet to come. AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOVMLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
Snow covers a pathway of Lafayette Square outside the White House during a snowstorm in downtown Washington, DC on January 22, 2016. A monster blizzard threatening the US East Coast slammed into Washington on January 22, blanketing the nation's capital in snow as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter, warning the worst was yet to come. AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOVMLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
Snow plows clean the snow from a street during a snowstorm in downtown Washington, DC on January 22, 2016. A monster blizzard threatening the US East Coast slammed into Washington on January 22, blanketing the nation's capital in snow as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter, warning the worst was yet to come. AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOVMLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
Snow plows clean the snow from a street during a snowstorm in downtown Washington, DC on January 22, 2016. A monster blizzard threatening the US East Coast slammed into Washington on January 22, blanketing the nation's capital in snow as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter, warning the worst was yet to come. AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOVMLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Snow plows clean the snow from a street during a snowstorm in downtown Washington, DC on January 22, 2016. A monster blizzard threatening the US East Coast slammed into Washington on January 22, blanketing the nation's capital in snow as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter, warning the worst was yet to come. AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOV / AFP / MLADEN ANTONOVMLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
A bus stop electronic board informs commuters about the interrupted service during a snowstorm in downtown Washington, DC on January 22, 2016. A monster blizzard threatening the US East Coast slammed into Washington on January 22, blanketing the nation's capital in snow as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter, warning the worst was yet to come. AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOVMLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
Nearly empty shelves are seen in a supermarket in Washington, DC, on January 22, 2016. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / Nicholas KammNICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
Workers repair an electric pole during a snowstorm in Washington on January 22, 2016. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / Mladen ANTONOVMLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
Workers clean the snow from a street during a snowstorm in Downtown Washington, DC January 22, 2016. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / Mladen ANTONOVMLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
Workers clean the snow from a street during a snowstorm in Downtown Washington, DC January 22, 2016. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / Mladen ANTONOVMLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
People walk in the street during a snowstorm in the Columbia Heights neighborhood in Washington on January 22, 2016. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / Nicholas KammNICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
The Lincoln Memorial is seen under snowfall in Washington on January 22, 2016. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / Mandel NganMANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
A man walks past a restaurant during a snowstorm January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - A man pushes a spreader for ice melting chemicals during a snowstorm January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
A worker clears snow from a sidewalk during a snowstorm January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - A person waits to cross a street during a snowstorm in Washington on January 22, 2016. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
A worker clears a road in front of the Old Executive Office Building during a snowstorm in Washington January 22, 2016. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
The White House is seen during a snowstorm in Washington January 22, 2016. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
An icicle hangs from the beard of an anti-abortion activist during a rally in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, 0n January 22, 2016 as the country marks the 43rd anniversary of the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion. / AFP / Nicholas KammNICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - The White House is seen during a snowstorm in Washington January 22, 2016. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
A member of the Secret Service clears snow from his car on Pennsylvania Avenue during a snow storm in Washington on January 22, 2016. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
A Bobcat clears snow from Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House during a snow storm in Washington on January 22, 2016. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
A woman crosses a street during a snow storm in Washington on January 22, 2016. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
The statue of US President Andrew Jackson is seen in Lafayette Square near the White House in Washington on January 22, 2016. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / PAUL J. RICHARDSPAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: A tree stands in the snow by the Potomac River January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. A winter snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with prediction of up to 30 inches of snow for the DC area. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial sits in the snow January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. A winter snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with prediction of up to 30 inches of snow for the DC area. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: An exhibit is covered by snow at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. A winter snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with prediction of up to 30 inches of snow for the DC area. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: A man takes a selfie in the snow January 22, 2016 in the Chinatown area of Washington, DC. A winter snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with prediction of up to 30 inches of snow for the DC area. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: the I-395 is seen covered by snow with little traffic January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. A winter snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with prediction of up to 30 inches of snow for the DC area. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: Workers shovels snow on a sidewalk January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. A winter snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with prediction of up to 30 inches of snow for the DC area. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: Pedestrians walk on H Street in the snow January 22, 2016 in the Chinatown area of Washington, DC. A winter snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with prediction of up to 30 inches of snow for the DC area. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: A snowplow makes its round to clean up snow January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. A winter snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with prediction of up to 30 inches of snow for the DC area. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: A pedestrian crosses the street January 22, 2016 in the Chinatown area of Washington, DC. A winter snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with prediction of up to 30 inches of snow for the DC area. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: A jogger runs past the Washington Monument as snow falls January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. A major snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with some areas expected to receive up to 30 inches of snow . (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: A snowplow cleans up snow on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the U.S. Capitol January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. A winter snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with prediction of up to 30 inches of snow for the DC area. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) ***BESTPIX***
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: A woman walks in the snow January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. A winter snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with prediction of up to 30 inches of snow for the DC area. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: A snowplow cleans up snow on a street January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. A winter snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with prediction of up to 30 inches of snow for the DC area. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: Snowplows stand by on a street January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. A winter snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with prediction of up to 30 inches of snow for the DC area. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: A member of the U.S. Secret Service stands guard covered in newly fallen snow outside the White House January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. A major snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with some areas expected to receive up to 1-2 feet of snow. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: A pro-life activist stands in the snow as he covers his mouth with tape during the 2016 March for Life January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. The annual event marked the anniversary of the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: Nuns from the Fraternite Notre-Dame in Chicago, Illinois are covered in newly fallen snow as they walk along Constitution Avenue while snow begins to accumulate January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. A major snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with some areas expected to receive up to 1-2 feet of snow. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) ***BESTPIX***

By midday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced a travel ban in New York City, ordering all non-emergency vehicles off the roads by mid-afternoon. Mayor Bill de Blasio urged Broadway theatres and restaurants to close. The city's commuter rails and above-ground segments of the subway were to shut down too, along with buses.

Cab driver Mian Ayyub said he tried to pick up fares Saturday morning but gave up after getting stuck four times in two hours. Police and passers-by helped get him free.

''I've been driving a cab 28 years, but this looks like the worst.'' He parked in the East Village and went home.

In Kentucky, where some places got 18 inches on Friday, hundreds of drivers on a long stretch of Interstate 75 south of Lexington were stranded overnight because of a string of crashes and blowing snow. Crews passed out snacks, fuel and water and tried to move cars one by one. Emergency shelters were opened.

Motorists also were reported stranded along pockets of the Pennsylvania Turnpike near the Allegheny Mountain Tunnel in Somerset County. The National Guard was called to help, said Pennsylvania Turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo. In the Washington metro area, nearly two feet of snow was on the ground by Saturday morning, and monuments that would normally be busy with tourists, were mostly vacant. All mass transit was to be shut down through Sunday.

The snow alone would have been enough to bring the East Coast to a halt. But it was whipped into a maelstrom by brutally sharp winds that reached 75mph at Dewey Beach, Delaware, and Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, the weather service reported.

From Virginia to New York, sustained winds topped 30mph and gusted to around 50mph, Mr Burke said.

The wind was so strong that scientists reported trouble measuring the snowfall.

And if that were not enough, the storm had bursts of thunder and lightning.

Forecasters saw lightning out the window of the Weather Prediction Centre, where meteorologists were camped out.

Even before the snow began to fall Friday afternoon, states of emergency were declared. Schools, government offices and transit systems closed early from Georgia to New York.

The ice and snow made travel treacherous, causing thousands of accidents and cancelling nearly 4,300 flights. Airlines hoped to be back in business by Sunday afternoon.

Airlines canceled more than 5,500 flights in the US and beyond this weekend as a blizzard conditions, cold and ice hits much of the US, with East Coast cities feeling the most impact.

The bulk of Saturday's 4,298 cancellations are at airports in the New York City and Washington metro areas, according to flight tracking service FlightAware.

Another 1,235 flights were cancelled for Sunday. Those cancellations centre on Philadelphia, Washington and New York, with airlines essentially shutting down all flights into those cities.

But the snowstorm was greeted happily at Virginia's ski resorts.

''We're thrilled,'' said Hank Thiess, general manager at Wintergreen ski resort in central Virginia, who was expecting 40 inches of dry, powdery snow. ''Going forward, we're set up to have just a terrific second half of the ski season.''

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