New York - Cities from Boston to New York and Philadelphia were shutting down Monday against a monster storm that could unload up to 90cm of snow on a region of more than 35 million people.
Snow was blowing sideways with ever-increasing intensity in New York City by midafternoon as flurries began in Boston. Forecasters said the storm would build into a blizzard, and the brunt of it would hit on Monday evening and into Tuesday.
More than 6 700 flights in and out of the Northeast were cancelled, and many of them may not take off again until Wednesday. Schools and businesses let out early. State government offices closed.
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Cities mobilised snowplows and salt spreaders to deal with a dangerously windy blast that could instantly make up for what has been a largely snow-free winter in the urban Northeast.
Streets across the Northeast were nearly empty late on Monday night, with most workers home for the night.
All too aware that big snowstorms can make or break politicians, governors and mayors moved quickly to declare emergencies and order the shutdown of highways, streets and mass transit systems — perhaps for days — to prevent travellers from getting stranded and to enable plows and emergency vehicles to get through.
New York City's subways and buses planned to shut down completely by 23:00, Commuter railroads across the Northeast also announced plans to stop running overnight. Most flights were cancelled out of the region's major airports.
"This will most likely be one of the largest blizzards in the history of New York City," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio warned. He urged New Yorkers to go home and stay there.
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The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for a 402km swath of the region, meaning heavy, blowing snow and potential whiteout conditions.
Coastal residents braced for a powerful storm surge and the possibility of damaging flooding and beach erosion, particularly in New Jersey and on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Officials in New Jersey shore towns warned people to move their cars off the streets and away from the water.
Utility companies across the region put additional crews on standby to deal with anticipated power outages from high winds.
The storm interrupted jury selection in the Boston Marathon bombing case and forced a postponement in opening statements in the murder trial of former NFL star Aaron Hernandez in Massachusetts.
The Washington area was expecting only a few centimetres of snow. But the House postponed votes scheduled for Monday night because lawmakers were having difficulty flying back to the nation's capital after the weekend.
On Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange said it will stay open and operate normally on Monday and Tuesday.
Associated Press writers Dave Collins and Pat Eaton-Robb in Hartford, Connecticut; David Porter in Lyndhurst, New Jersey; Jim Fitzgerald in White Plains, New York; Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, New Jersey; Deepti Hajela and Verena Dobnik in New York; Albert Stumm in Philadelphia; and Marcy Gordon and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.