NEW YORK (CNN) — Welcome to winter, East Coast.
After a fairly tame season so far — especially compared to the last one — a monster storm loomed Friday over the Carolinas north to New England, spurring people to hunker down with their shovels, coffee and ideally firewood, given real fears that powerful winds and heavy snow and ice could knock out power. Roughly 75 million people total are in the path, 30 million of whom are under blizzard watches or warnings.
North Carolina began getting hit hard early Friday, with snow covering the ground in cities like Asheville, Charlotte and Greensboro just in time for the morning commute. The National Weather Service said the state’s Research Triangle — which includes Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill — was already being buried under snow and sleet Friday morning, with sleet and freezing rain expected in the afternoon.
That will mean many headaches, accidents and other troubles for folks there.
Still, it pales compared to the wallop this storm is expected to deliver as it moves north.
— NASA (@NASA) January 21, 2016
More than any other place, Washington, D.C., is in the bull’s-eye. Snow should start falling there late Friday afternoon, with 10 to 14 inches possible by day’s end. The forecast calls for another 9 to 13 inches before the precipitation wraps up sometime after midnight. And throughout, the snow will be accompanied by sustained winds of up to 30 mph and gusts of 10 or more mph stronger than that.
The nation’s capital, though, is not alone in expecting blizzard conditions. On Friday morning, the National Weather Service extended its blizzard warning to include Philadelphia and New York City. That’s upwards of 10 million in just those three cities, not to mention millions more in parts of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and new Jersey under the same advisory.
“Stay off the roads for your own safety. … Get ready, get your supplies today,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday morning. “(Then) stay indoors, stay safe.”
Southeast also affected by system
The massive storm already has dumped an icy blotch of freezing rain, sleet or snow from Oklahoma through Tennessee. And while the focus is on points north, it will probably cause lots of trouble in the South as well.
That includes severe thunderstorms expected in Florida, the potential for tornadoes around the South, and even a winter storm warning Friday afternoon into Saturday night for parts of North Georgia. And a foot or two of snow could pile up in eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, southern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to the CNN Weather Center.
“There’s more to this storm than just the snow and ice that we’re predicting,” said CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam.
This has led airlines to cancel over 4,700 flights Friday and Saturday, trying to get ahead of the storm. And at thousands of schools in the Southeast on Friday, there were no classes or students headed home early, just in time for the weekend.
— Michelle Rogers CPT (@MRhealthyliving) January 22, 2016
D.C. official: ‘Predictions going off the map’
Such cancellations are part of any U.S. winter. Still, there are legitimate concerns that this storm will go above and beyond the norm in many ways — both in terms of what falls from the sky and how fast the wind blows, both of which could produce massive power outages.
Ice and snow could snap tree limbs, downing electrical lines. And with the weight of so much snow falling at once over the weekend, “we’re concerned that we will perhaps get some collapsed roofs,” Washington, D.C., emergency management spokesman Chris Geldart told CNN.
Federal agencies closed Friday before the blizzard bore down on the nation’s capital.
Winter Storm approaching Mid-Atlantic this morning. Here is the latest update from NWS. pic.twitter.com/ClCZkLEZSY
— NWS DC/Baltimore (@NWS_BaltWash) January 22, 2016
Washington could break its all-time snow record. Twenty-eight inches fell in the “Knickerbocker Storm” of 1922, named after a theater that collapsed under the weight of snow, killing 100 people.
Said Geldart, “There are predictions going off the map for it.”
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Washington and Virginia got a dangerous preview Wednesday and Thursday, when cars slid off course and police untangled 767 accidents and tended to 392 stalled motorist calls. A man died in Maryland when a snowplow hit him.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has called out 500 National Guard members to face the coming storm.
“We have the equipment, we have the folks, they’re mobilized, they’re ready. We’ve been out for 24 hours. We like to get out early,” he told CNN affiliate WJLA.
Tennessee was hit early, and a 19-year-old man died Wednesday after his car slid off a road “due to weather and speeding,” authorities said. Two people died in North Carolina late Wednesday in crashes along snow-covered roads.
The bad weather even prompted the cancellation of the North Carolina Panther Pride parade — a rally for the Carolina Panthers, who host the NFC professional football championship Sunday in Charlotte.
Some fans from Arizona — whose Cardinals will play the Panthers — took flights early to beat any cancellations, AZ Central reported. But the team has not changed travel plans and will be on a Delta Air Lines flight out of Phoenix late Saturday.
Transportation suspended, store shelves cleared
United Airlines announced it would suspend flights at its Washington Dulles International Airport hub and other Mid-Atlantic airports starting Friday afternoon. Amtrak also announced a modified schedule in the Northeast because of the storm, and Washington said its Metrorail system would close all day Saturday and Sunday.
“This is not a storm that anyone should take lightly, and I would urge all residents to plan to get to a safe place before the storm arrives Friday afternoon,” said Metro CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld.
Wherever you are, authorities have stressed that planning ahead is a must. And many have heeded their advice, as evidenced by supermarket shelves cleared of staples like milk, bread, beer and toilet paper.
Why milk, bread and toilet paper when it snows?
Heaters, shovels and sleds sold at a frenzied pace in Silver Spring, Maryland. Ice melt chemical, too.
“They know (the storm is) coming,” Roy Washington, a manager at Strosniders Hardware, told WJLA. “They hear the forecast, and they want to be prepared for it.”
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CNN’s Ed Payne, Dave Hennen, Tina Burnside, Jason Hanna and Phil Gast contributed to this report.