“Historic” is an overused word, but it applies to the blizzard that’s coming for the national capital region, large parts of which could get more than 30 inches of snow over the weekend.
The National Weather Service said Washington, D.C., itself could get as much as 29 inches by Sunday night — topping the record measured in the Knickerbocker blizzard of January 1922, when 28 inches of snow fell.
That storm was named for Crandall’s Knickerbocker Theatre — the roof of which collapsed under the weight of snow, killing 98 people and injuring 133 others.
The capital is at the center of an angry, sprawling winter storm that’s forecast to deliver heavy snowfall over at least 15 states beginning Friday afternoon and evening and continuing well into Sunday night. The Office of Personnel Management said federal offices in the region would close at noon ET Friday.
Rare blizzard warnings were issued for the Washington and Baltimore metropolitan areas, while blizzard watches spread north through the Philadelphia area and into New York City.
“This is going to be a legitimate blizzard,” said Ari Sarsalari, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel. “Some of these [snow] numbers are absolutely staggering.”
When you zoom out to the larger picture, more than 77 million people, almost a quarter of the country’s population, were covered by winter weather warnings, watches and advisories from New York to South Carolina and west to Kansas, The Weather Channel estimated Thursday night.
Saturday will be “an absolute mess,” Sarsalari said, predicting that travel would be “literally impossible anywhere in the Mid-Atlantic region.”
By 3:30 a.m. ET Friday, snow was falling across a crescent stretching from Arkansas through Kentucky and down into North Carolina.
One area where the forecast had changed was New England, which now looked likely to miss out on the snow, save for a possible inch in Boston on Saturday, according to Weather Channel lead forecaster Michael Palmer.
“I think the folks up there are probably used to that, anyway,” he said.
American Airlines canceled all of its Friday flights out of the Washington, Baltimore and Charlotte, North Carolina, airports, among almost 2,400 arrivals and departures that were scrubbed at airports up and down the Eastern seaboard.
A similar number of arrivals and departures had already been taken off the board for Saturday.
Amtrak canceled several national services for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, including Crescent service from New York to New Orleans, Cardinal service from New York to Chicago and Silver Meteor service from New York to Miami.
The Capitol Limited — so-named because it connects Chicago and Washington — won’t actually go to the Capitol on Friday and Saturday because it will be stopped at Pittsburgh.
A day after a mere inch of snow paralyzed Washington, transit authorities shut down the D.C.-area Metro system — the nation’s second-busiest mass transit network — for the entire weekend. No trains will run after 11 p.m. Friday, and buses will be benched at 5 p.m., during the heart of the evening rush hour.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, however, suggested his city is made of sterner stuff and said there were no plans yet to close the subway.
Many areas were under blizzard advisories because of strong winds forecast for the weekend. Forecasters warned that 60-mph gusts could blow wet, heavy snow into trees, power lines and transformers, presaging widespread power failures in the East from North Carolina to New England.
And because a full moon will swell tides this weekend, “moderate to major” coastal floods could be in store from Maryland and Delaware to Connecticut — including coastal New York — said Michael Lowry, a storm surge specialist for The Weather Channel.
The storm is expected to reach so far south that it could affect Sunday’s National Football Conference championship game between the Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals in Charlotte.
A forecast of freezing rain Friday led the city to cancel a pep rally for the team, and snow up to 3½ inches is forecast for Saturday, when the Cardinals are scheduled to fly to Charlotte ahead of Sunday’s game.
Charlotte-Douglas International Airport had canceled almost 400 arrivals for Friday and about 50 so far for Saturday, but the Cardinals said that for now, they didn’t expect to be delayed.
But for the team’s fans, getting to the game could be tricky.
“I’m a little nervous,” Tyler Vasquez of Phoenix told NBC station KPNX. “I have yet to get an email from my airline, [but] a lot of people in our group that we have that are going on this trip have posted, ‘I’ve got this email or my flight’s been canceled.'”
If necessary, Vasquez said, he’ll fly to Atlanta on Saturday and try to make the 4½-hour drive to Charlotte.
Meanwhile, in Chesterfield County, Virginia, school officials got creative in announcing the cancellation of classes with a district-wide music video.
On the other side of the cold front, warm air from the Gulf of Mexico prompted thunderstorms and a tornado watch to be issued for southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
The Weather Channel’s Palmer said that although this tornado watch was set to expire early Friday, the region could see an isolated tornado touch down later in the day.