Washington: Hundreds of thousands of American students and government workers stayed home Thursday as a major winter storm hit from Texas to the northeastern United States.
Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York were expected to get as much as a foot and a half of snow, with wind chill temperatures dipping well below average in much of the region.
In the nation`s capital, government offices and schools were shuttered, along with most national Smithsonian museums, leaving the city`s core eerily quiet as freezing rain turned to snow by mid-morning.
Many schools and government offices were also closed in Philadelphia and Baltimore, while Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear declared a state of emergency for the state, where some cities were pounded with 20 inches of snow.
Southern United States was not spared -- with Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico all facing weather warnings.
The National Weather Service said 65 million people were under a winter storm warning, and other another 29 million were under a winter weather advisory.
Forecasters said the storm, which stretched from the Mexican border to New England, was an abnormal in its scope.
"For this time of year, to be impacting people in the relative deep south, it`s a fairly unusual event," NWS meteorologist Bruce Terry told AFP.
He said southern states, not accustomed to winter conditions, might not be as prepared as some of their more weathered US neighbors.
"They`re not going to be as well-equipped to deal with significant snowfall, as we would back east here and in the northeast."Washington and Baltimore were expecting up to eight inches of snow, with temperatures in the capital dropping to 10 Fahrenheit (-12 Celsius) by evening.
"Significant amounts of snow are forecast that will make travel dangerous. Only travel in an emergency. If you must travel, keep an extra flashlight, food, and water in your vehicle," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cautioned for Washington and Baltimore.
In New York and New Jersey, forecasters said wind chill temperatures could plummet to 13 degrees Fahrenheit(-10.5 Celsius), with as much as seven inches of snow expected as well.
Forecasters said Philadelphia could also get seven inches of the white stuff, and warned "the snow will make travel very hazardous or impossible."
Meanwhile, freezing rain, sleet and snow was forecast in Texas, while New Mexico was bracing for "hazardous" conditions later Thursday.
Airports braced for travel chaos, with more than 3,300 flights canceled by Thursday morning and more cancellations and delays expected.
The storm was expected to last until early evening, Terry said, but warned cold temperatures were likely to remain.
"It`s going to be this air mass behind this cold front, so again Friday, temperatures will probably be average 20 to 30 degrees below normal," he said.
But he said spring-like weather may grace the region soon, after what has been a harsh winter in much of northeastern United States.
"There is light at the end of the tunnel, things will begin to moderate over the weekend and by next week it looks like it`s going to be considerably milder," he said.
"I`m not saying it`s going to be warm, but it will feel like a change of seasons, next week a little bit, at least where it`s been very cold."
Boston, which has had one of the snowiest winters on record, dodged this latest storm and was expecting only a light dusting Thursday.