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Blizzard with ‘life and death implications’ hits Washington, Mid-Atlantic

Up to 85 million people are in the path of a storm that’s expected to rock much of the East Coast of the United States.

Snow has started to fall, but the weather is expected to get worse early Saturday morning, according to CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers.

“The fuse was just lit,” Myers said. Once it gets to South Carolina, “that’s when the firecracker goes off.”

Here are the latest developments as of late Friday:

— Police in the New Jersey township of Barnegat used Facebook to issue an evacuation notice for residents near the Atlantic shore due to a forecast of coastal flooding as a result of the winter storm’s strong winds.

— Philadelphia has issued a code blue for overnight Friday into Saturday. This means anyone who spots homeless people out in the cold should call the police, who will take them to a shelter, CNN’s Sara Ganim reported.

— Two people died Friday night in traffic accidents linked to inclement weather in North Carolina, said spokeswoman Olivia James of the State Emergency Response Team. At least eight people have died as a result of the winter storm that’s affecting much of the eastern United States.

— Virginia State Police had responded to 989 traffic crashes and 793 disabled vehicles by Friday evening.

— The nation’s capital and Baltimore are taking a direct hit from the storm.

— Georgia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Kentucky, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and West Virginia have all declared states of emergency due to the storm as of Friday. Washington, D.C., has declared a “snow emergency.”

— The National Weather Service office in D.C./Baltimore tweeted: “Worst of the #winterstorm upcoming 1am-1pm. Damaging winds along Bay shore. Heavy snow everywhere. Stay safe.”

— Sleet fell on top of snow that fell on top of freezing rain on North Carolina roads, the state’s department of transportation said. “The issue that we’re concerned with right now is black ice,” said spokeswoman Jordan-Ashley Walker. Road crews are throwing salt and sand on it.

— Residents appeared to be heeding warnings to stay off the roads, said Chris Geldart of the District of Columbia’s emergency management agency. “There are not many folks out at all,” he told CNN.

— Heavy snow with blizzard conditions is developing in southern Maryland, the National Weather Service said.

— The storm system was in a bit of a lull late Friday before “it explodes over the Atlantic Ocean,” said Myers. When the low hits the warm water off the Carolinas, the storm will take off again. Two inches of snow may fall per hour in some spots.

Meteorologists have warned the public to take heed as some areas could receive between 18 and — on the extreme high end — 40 inches. “This is not a near miss,” Myers said. “This is a direct hit.”

Here’s how the storm is already affecting traffic, air travel, the power grid — and a look at what’s still to come.

Power outages

As the impact zone for the big storm widens as it moves north, power outage numbers are expected to soar.

By Friday evening, 132,739 customers were without power across the Southeast, with 125,000 in the Carolinas, according to Duke Energy.

Help was coming from near and far.

Duke Energy tweeted: “Additional crews from Florida to Michigan continue to arrive & will be deployed as outages occur. #ThankALineman”

Airports: Just awful

The numbers are staggering. More than 7,600 flights for Friday through Sunday have been canceled.

The website FlightAware reported at 6:30 p.m. that 3,091 flights on Friday and 3,997 on Saturday had been canceled across the nation.

Most airports in the Mid-Atlantic virtually were shut down. United Airlines, for instance, said operations at Dulles and D.C. metro airports were suspended, with plans to resume limited flights on Sunday night. The terminal at Reagan National Airport was almost empty Friday night.

The ripple effect extended to Los Angeles International Airport, with 86 canceled arriving and departing flights.

Get on the highway? Fuggedaboutit!

We all know those folks who fly down the road, no matter the conditions. Officials don’t want them to see them — or anyone else — on the roads this weekend.

“People need to understand the gravity of what is coming our way,” said Geldart of the District of Columbia’s emergency management agency. “This is a dangerous storm. It is time to be indoors.”

Will Mahoney, a resident of Alexandria, Virginia, said the snow came so fast Friday afternoon that within 90 minutes, roads were covered and conditions were deteriorating.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie asked that those motorists who go out against advice not interfere with snowplows and salt trucks. He authorized transit officials to suspend service at 2 a.m. Saturday and warned of possible moderate flooding.

While there are no plans currently to suspend mass transit in New York City, the passage of emergency vehicles on streets is imperative. Vehicles blocking roadways are going to be towed.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said the bad weather caused at least four auto deaths. A fatality was reported in Chesapeake, Virginia, and another occurred Thursday in Whitley County, Kentucky, when a vehicle collided with a snowplow, officials said.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser spared no words in a warning to residents about the oncoming storm.

“It has life and death implications, and (people) should treat it that way,” she said. “People should hunker down, shelter in place and stay off the roads.”

A snow plow driver in Fairfax, Virginia, told CNN’s Nick Valencia the storm is “starting to get worse. It’s pretty thick. This is an all new experience for us.”

“Past winters was much easier, much easier,” he said.

Obstacles sometimes jolt the plows, and crews have to stop to do maintenance on them.

“When you hit a manhole cover, lights jerk, and you blow lights out all the time,” another driver said.

Events: We’ll have to have fun another day

The winter storm has forced postponement of hundreds of events — including NBA games in Philadelphia and Washington, plus an NHL contest in the nation’s capital, as well as a rally for the Carolina Panthers ahead of their NFC championship in Charlotte.

Some fans from Arizona, the home of the Panthers’ foe, flew out early to make Sunday’s title contest, AZ Central reported.

Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said of Sunday’s game: “We are lucky that it’s an evening game and so the temperature … is supposed to get in the 40s. Our concern is people traveling here who are coming to cheer on their team … and it’s just going to be messy travel throughout the day on Saturday. … We hope that it clears up enough Sunday to keep those roads safe.”

Meanwhile Friday night, a tweet from inside Raleigh’s PNC Arena showed sparse attendance for the New York Rangers-Carolina Hurricanes game.

Coping: Stories from the front

From her home just outside Lynchburg, Virginia, Tracy Batwinas said the storm, coming after what has been a mild winter, has jostled many people. Her husband had to circle many times to get a parking spot outside a local Kroger grocery store, and once he got inside, he found that staples like eggs, bread, milk and more had been cleared off the shelves.

By 9 a.m., snow was coming down fast —  “the hardest snowstorm that I can remember ever seeing,” said Batwinas, 53, who was born and raised in Virginia. Still, while many are worried, she’s looking forward to “a play date” with her husband of four years and their two golden retrievers.

Forecast: What’s the outlook?

After a week of superlatives — record-breaking, life-threatening, monster and historic — the snow onslaught is on and getting scarier by the minute.

The worst of the storm will run from 1 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday the National Weather Service tweeted.

From midnight until noon Saturday, the forecast shows snowfall rates to potentially reach 10 inches every six hours, according to Geldart. Also a concern: the wind, which could reach up to 50 mph or even higher.

The snow arrived in Washington in the afternoon and quickly intensified, with 2½ feet possible by the time the last flakes fall Saturday night, said Bowser.

The storm could be the largest in Washington’s history, and will probably rank in the top 5 in terms of snowfall accumulation.

Baltimore may get 18-21 inches, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said it will make auto travel “hazardous if not impossible.” Mass transit service was suspended there for the weekend, as it was in Washington.

Hurricane force wind gusts will be possible Saturday along the Eastern Seaboard, with moderate flooding likely.

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