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White Christmas grounds US flights

A rare white Christmas in parts of southern United States has complicating life for some travellers as airlines cancelled hundreds of flights, while snow was predicted for the nation's Capital and travel authorities warned of potentially dangerous roads.

The National Weather Service said the storm could bring 6 to 10 inches of snow to the Washington region, beginning on Sunday. The Weather Service was also forecasting possible snow for the New York and Boston areas, with overnight temperatures in the 20s and wind gusts up to 30 mph.

The Carolinas got their first white Christmas in decades as snow began falling Saturday morning in Asheville, spreading to Raleigh by noon and was forecast to stretch to the coast later in the day.

The National Weather Service issued winter storm warnings with forecasts calling for up to six inches of snow in central North Carolina with more in the mountains and less on the coast. In South Carolina, forecasts called for rain turning to snow after dark.

It's the first Christmas snow for the Carolinas since 1989, when a foot fell along the coast. For Columbia, it's the first significant Christmas snow since weather records were first kept in 1887.

North Carolina Lt Gov Walter Dalton declared a state of emergency. The North Carolina Highway Patrol said most of the roads in and around Asheville were either covered or partially covered with snow and ice.

Brian Korty at the Weather Service in Camp Springs, Maryland, said travellers in the northern Mid-Atlantic region and New England may want to rethink Sunday travel plans.

"They may see nearly impossible conditions to travel in," he said. "It would be a lot better for them to travel today than it would be tomorrow."

In the Washington area, emergency management officials were urging residents to get ready for approaching snow.

Washington's Metro system had placed crews on standby to remove snow from rail station entrances and platforms if necessary. Metro says that it will operate on close to a normal rail schedule if less than 6 inches of snow falls. But if snow reaches a depth of eight inches, Metro may suspend rail service above ground.

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