WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A blizzard producing heavy snow and powerful winds pummeled the U.S. mid-Atlantic on Saturday, causing at least two fatalities and paralyzing travel in the region.
Snowfall totals of 20 to 30 inches are forecast from Virginia to southern New Jersey by Saturday evening when the storm is expected to move out to sea.
Up to 28 inches of snow had fallen by 11 a.m. EST in suburban Washington, D.C. Local weather forecasters said the storm could bring the heaviest snowfall in 90 years to the Washington area.
The National Weather Service declared a 24-hour blizzard warning for the Washington-Baltimore region until 10 p.m. EST Saturday.
Winds were strong, especially along the mid-Atlantic coast, with gusts recorded up to 40 mph.
Virginia state police reported two people were killed in Virginia when they were struck by a tractor-trailer after stopping to help a stranded motorist.
Most flights were canceled on Saturday at the Washington-Baltimore area’s three main airports and at Philadelphia International Airport. At Dulles Airport outside Washington part of the roof of a jet hangar collapsed under the weight of snow but no one was injured.
Driving in the region was treacherous and authorities advised motorists to stay off the roads.
President Barack Obama had to venture out of the White House to speak at a Democratic National Committee meeting and his motorcade was involved in a minor accident. Obama dubbed the blizzard “Snowmageddon.”
Washington’s Metro train service was operating only underground on Saturday and bus service was canceled. Mayor Adrian Fenty said city workers would be on the job through the weekend in hopes of having the city ready for Monday’s rush hour.
Amtrak canceled a number of trains operating on Saturday between New York and Washington and also between Washington and some destinations to the south.
More than 230,000 homes lost power in the Washington area, according to The Washington Post, due to high winds and snow on power lines.
The storm brought school closings and long lines at supermarkets on Friday as frenzied area residents rushed to stock up on groceries and other supplies ahead of a traditional party weekend for watching Sunday’s Super Bowl football game.
Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia each declared snow emergencies, allowing them to activate emergency agencies, including the National Guard, to help deal with the wintry onslaught.
U.S. government offices in the Washington area closed four hours early on Friday, while the Smithsonian museums and National Zoo were closed on Saturday in Washington.
Unseasonably cold temperatures were expected in the storm’s wake next week in the U.S. Northeast, which is the world’s biggest heating oil market, and the Midwest, a large natural gas demand center.
The cold helped boost New York’s spot natural gas market toward winter season highs on Friday, where prices reached about $11.50 per million British thermal units on average, up more than $4 from Thursday.
Spot gas for Chicago rose 10 cents to above $5.70. Meanwhile, heating oil was little changed.
“Once we get through the weekend storm, much colder air will invade the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. The outlook for the northeast third of the country next week is looking much colder than normal,” said Jim Rouiller, a senior energy meteorologist at private weather forecaster Planalytics.
The same weather system brought heavy rains to parts of the southeastern United States including the Carolinas and Georgia while fueling itself with fresh moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
Reporting by David Morgan and Eric Beech; additional reporting by Ed McAllister and Eileen Moustakis in New York; Bill Trott in Washington; Editing by Eric Walsh