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Much Of East Coast Paralyzed As Massive Winter Storm Continues

The snow will glow white on the mountains tonight — the Appalachians, that is, from North Carolina through Pennsylvania.

The wind is howling — gusts over 60 miles per hour in some areas, the National Weather Service reports — as this swirling storm moves up the coast.

And if you had any hopes of seeing a play in New York City or flying through D.C., well, let it go.

The winter storm that started dumping snow Friday on the East Coast has entered into its second day. It's anticipated to carry on through Sunday in some regions.

It has already brought life to a standstill in many parts of the East Coast, including Washington, D.C. and New York City. Roads are inaccessible, public transit is shut down and in New York City, a police-enforced travel ban has gone into effect.

New York was originally predicted to see significantly less snowfall than many other affected areas, but the NWS has revised predicted snow totals up several times since the storm began. Now it's anticipating 24-30 inches for parts of the city.

The uptick in intensity has thrown the city into high alert. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for New York City on Saturday, joining multiple numerous states and cities farther south. Bus service in New York was suspended at noon, but transit workers are trying to keep the underground sections of the subway running.

Gov. Cuomo is also instituting a travel ban in the city, which took effect between 2:30 p.m. ET and 7 a.m. on Sunday. Drivers out on the road for non-emergencies during that time could be arrested. Broadway shows on Saturday have all been canceled, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has strongly urged any restaurants planning to stay open through the storm to shut down and send their employees home.

The D.C. area, where the entire public transit system is shut down all weekend, is expecting 2-3 feet of snow. Philadelphia is expecting up to 2 feet. You can see reported accumulations so far on the NWS site.

And you can watch the storm's progress thanks to our friends at WNYC.

At least 10,000 flights have been canceled on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, FlightAware reports. United Airlines has canceled all of its Sunday flights at the two major airports in D.C. — and will have only very limited flights at Newark and other New York City airports. The major airports in the New York metro area remain open, but all flights there have been canceled.

The impact of so many cancellations stretches far beyond the storm's direct reach. On Friday, San Francisco had 15 percent of its flights canceled, and Detroit, Chicago and Orlando saw 10 percent of their flights drop off the boards.

Hundreds of thousands of people have lost power — particularly in the Carolinas, where the storm dropped large quantities of ice as well as snow. In New Jersey alone, WHYY's Bobby Allyn reports that more than 40,000 people are without power.

Authorities continue to ask residents in storm-affected areas to stay home and stay off the roads. Driving is perilous in many areas: The Virginia Highway Patrol says they responded to nearly a thousand car crashes Friday night. At least 18 people have died due to the weather across the affected area, the AP reports.

In Kentucky, meanwhile, drivers on a stretch of Interstate 75 were stranded overnight as crashes shut down the roadway. The Kentucky State Police said on Twitter late Friday that the Red Cross set up shelters for motorists stranded by the interstate closure.

Early Saturday morning, the police tweeted that police officers and the National Guard were moving cars "one at a time," and that emergency crews were bringing food, water and fuel to motorists trapped in their cars.

A local TV reporter was stranded on the interstate in her news van, The Associated Press reports. "Every time it looks like there's light at the end of the tunnel, more accidents and slide-offs are occurring," Caitlin Centner said, according to the wire service.

One traveling band — stuck on I-75 for 11 1/2 hours, according to their Twitter feed — sang through their woes.

The interstate has now been reopened, an official tells the AP, and no injuries were reported.

Motorists on the Pennsylvania turnpike were also stuck, with some unable to move well into Saturday. The National Guard was called out to provide food and water to those motorists as well.

"Gov. Tom Wolf's office said the problems in Somerset County began after westbound tractor-trailers were unable to climb a hill," the AP reports. "As traffic backed up behind them, more trucks also became unable to go up the hill, backing up all vehicles and preventing emergency crews from getting heavy-duty tow trucks to the scene and road crews from being able to clear the snow, officials said."

The AP spoke to a gymnastics team and a church group stuck on the turnpike, and both reported high spirits. The team noted that being stuck in cramped conditions wasn't too much of a challenge, since they were gymnasts, after all; the church group, returning to Indiana from an anti-abortion protest in D.C., told the wire service they were on a pilgrimage and "there's going to be some suffering with that."

But the Duquesne men's basketball team, also trapped on the turnpike, was less sanguine. The coach told the AP the players were running out of leftover pizza.

Meanwhile, as the storm is capturing the attention of millions of people, there isn't exactly agreement on what to call it.

Hurricanes are named by the National Hurricane Center, but there's no equivalent body for blizzards and snowstorms.

The Weather Channel — which has been naming winter storms since 2012 — dubbed the storm Jonas. (The name comes from a list recommended by a Latin club at a high school in Montana. The students are partial to mythology, and want you to know that if the Weather Channel ever gets to winter storm "Yolo," that was not their idea.)

But not everybody is a fan of the Weather Channel's storm-naming: as NPR's Elise Hu wrote in 2013, it can easily be part of a "hype cycle" that doesn't serve the public interest. Identifying which winter storm systems are major events is also more subjective than identifying a hurricane.

So the National Weather Center has ignored the use of the name Jonas and is marking its tweets with the rather straightforward hashtag #WinterStorm.

The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang, for its part, asked its readers to vote on the storm's name. Blizzard of 2016? (Not popular.) Snowtastrophe? (Meh, readers said.) Snownino? (Getting closer...)

The readership went with the Trumpian "Make Winter Great Again," by a pretty wide margin.

But the Post's meteorologists overruled democracy. "We've thought about it long and hard this morning and although Make Winter Great Again has the most votes — and is certainly hilarious — it doesn't make for a good name, or a good hashtag," they wrote.

So they opted for the runner-up, Snowzilla.

Whatever you call it, this storm looks pretty dramatic from space.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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