Winter storm pounds US East Coast, grinds Washington to halt

Winter storm pounds US East Coast, grinds Washington to halt

The US Capitol is seen during the snow storm as the health care debate continues in the Senate into the evening on Capitol Hill in Washington on Saturday. AP

The foul weather prompted an emergency declaration in Washington on Saturday, stranded hundreds of motorists, brought havoc at airports, caused power outages, and threatened to keep hordes of Christmas shoppers indoors. Roadsides were cluttered with abandoned and stuck vehicles. Metro announced that all aboveground train service and all bus service stopped at 1 p.m.  until further notice.

All runways at Reagan National Airport were closed until 6 a.m. Sunday, and the Metrorail train line to the airport was shut down because of the snow, the metropolitan airports authority said on its Web site. The terminal remained open.

A spokesperson said Dulles International Airport is handling a limited number of arrivals and departures.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for the DC area, but reduced that to a winter storm warning until 6 a.m. Sunday. But snow was expected to continue falling through the night with some areas likely to get more than two feet (60 cm) of snow.

Weather experts said the storm could produce the most significant snowfall to hit the Washington area since Feb 15-18 of 2003, when more than 16 inches (40 cm) fell across the region. It also could be the biggest December storm in Washington since at least 1932, when 12 inches (30 cm) fell Dec 17, the Weather Service said.

"Historically, this is a big-time snow for December," said Dan Stillman, lead meteorologist for the Capital Weather Gang.

The storm is blanketing the mid-Atlantic region and the heavily populated Interstate-95 corridor and 10 to 20 inches (25 to 50 cm) of snow were predicted for swaths of the region, CNN said.

The storm, spawned in the Gulf of Mexico and centred over the Atlantic ocean. stretched from Tennessee and North Carolina to the southern New England states, nearly shutting down Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York.

In Virginia, the emergency management agency said many roads in the western region were considered hazardous, motorists were stranded across the state, and local and state officials were helping them.

In Washington, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said the storm is "perhaps the biggest we've seen in several years."

"We are going to throw everything we have at it to keep the District open for business on this busy pre-holiday weekend," Fenty said announcing the snow emergency.

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