US secret service agents walk on the White House grounds during the snowstorm on Saturday. (Reuters)
Washington, Feb. 6 (Reuters): A blizzard producing heavy snow and powerful winds pummelled the US mid-Atlantic today, causing at least two fatalities and paralysing travel in the region.
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.
Snowfall totals of 51 to 76cm are forecast from Virginia to southern New Jersey when the storm is expected to move out to sea.
Up to 71cm of snow had fallen by 1600GMT in suburban Washington DC. 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 0300GMT tomorrow.
Winds were strong, especially along the mid-Atlantic coast, with gusts recorded up to 64kmph. 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.
Some area hospitals asked people with four-wheel-drive vehicles to volunteer to pick up doctors and nurses to take them to work.
Most flights were cancelled today at the Washington-Baltimore areas 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. Washingtons Metro train service was operating only underground today.
Amtrak cancelled a number of trains operating today between New York and Washington and also between Washington and some destinations to the south.
More than 210,000 homes lost power in the Washington area, according to The Washington Post, because of high winds and snow on power lines. The storm brought school closings and long lines at supermarkets yesterday as frenzied area residents rushed to stock up on groceries and other supplies ahead of a traditional party weekend for watching yesterdays Super Bowl football game.
Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia each declared snow emergencies, allowing them to activate agencies, including the National Guard, to help deal with the wintry onslaught.
US government offices in the Washington area closed four hours early on Friday, while the Smithsonian museums and National Zoo were closed today in Washington.
Unseasonably cold temperatures were expected in the storms wake next week in the US northeast, which is the worlds biggest heating oil market, and the Midwest, a large natural gas demand centre. The cold helped boost New Yorks spot natural gas market towards winter season highs yesterday.
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 US including the Carolinas and Georgia while fuelling itself with fresh moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.