Powerful winter storm hits eastern US

Snow and other hazardous conditions prompt office closures and leave hundreds of thousands without power

Parts of the US Mid Atlantic region and South experienced the first winter storm of the year on Monday, prompting the closure of government offices and Covid-19 testing sites and compounding travellers' misery as thousands more flights were cancelled.

Wind gusts of up to 56 kilometres per hour and up to 25 centimetres of snow have been forecast for the Washington area, the National Weather Service reported.

“Very intense snowfall rates” at 5 centimetres per hour are expected to blanket the area, the Weather Prediction Centre tweeted.

The snow is expected to pile on to the problems already faced by travellers, who faced major disruptions over the holiday season. More than half of the flights into and out of major airports in the Washington metropolitan area were either delayed or cancelled on Monday, website FlightAware showed.

More than 2,000 flights coming into, out of, or travelling within the US had been cancelled as of 10am EST on Monday.

The hazardous conditions even affected President Joe Biden's travel plans: the US leader had to travel by motorcade from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to the White House after his helicopter was grounded.

The mayor of Washington on Sunday night declared an emergency as the snowstorm bore down on the US capital. Federal offices and many Covid-19 testing sites announced they would close due to the weather.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the storm. Up to 20cm of snow is expected to fall on southern New Jersey a day after portions of the tri-state area — which covers parts of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut — experienced record-breaking high temperatures for winter.

More than 800,000 customers were without power on Monday morning, according to The Weather Channel's Power Outage Tracker. Over 300,000 outages have been reported in Virginia alone.

In North Carolina, 164,000 customers woke up without power. The south-eastern US state, which reported record-breaking winter heat days ago, is expected to experience rainfall and freezing cold air as temperatures plunge.

And more than 1.5 million people along the coast are under a tornado watch.

Snow began falling on Sunday night in parts of Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee. As much as 15cm accumulated in northern Alabama, where authorities reported that multiple roads were blocked because of icy spots and wrecks, and businesses, schools and government offices delayed opening until midmorning to allow time for temperatures to rise above freezing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Updated: January 4th 2022, 7:51 AM