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Mid-Atlantic, Northeast brace for monster storm; flights cancelled

A car moves along a snow-covered road in the early morning in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010. (AP Photo/Jim R. Bounds)

WASHINGTON – A band of frigid weather snaking its way up the East Coast on Sunday threatened to bring blizzards and at least 30 centimetres of snow to New York City and New England, while several states to the South made emergency declarations as the storm caused crashes on slick roads.

Airlines grounded hundreds of flights Sunday along the Northeast corridor in anticipation of the storm, affecting major airports including New York’s JFK and Newark. Airlines said more cancellations were likely as the storm progressed. Travel misery began a day earlier in parts of the South, where a rare white Christmas came with reports of dozens of car crashes.

In Washington transportation officials pretreated roads and readied 200 salt trucks, plows and other pieces of equipment to fight the 15 centimetres or more expected to fall in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The Northeast is expected to get the brunt of the storm. Forecasters issued a blizzard warning for New York City for Sunday and Monday, with a forecast of 28 to 40 centimetres of snow and strong winds that will reduce visibility to near zero at times. A blizzard warning was also in effect for Rhode Island and most of eastern Massachusetts including Boston, with forecasters predicting 38 to 50 centimetres of snow. A blizzard warning is issued when snow is accompanied by sustained winds or gusts over 55 kilometres and hour.

As much as 45 centimetres could fall on the New Jersey shore with wind gusts over 65 km/h.

Baltimore and Washington were expected to get 15 centimetres or more of snow, with surrounding areas forecast to have as much as 22 centimetres, the weather service said.

By early Sunday, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina declared states of emergency. Amtrak cancelled several of its trains in Virginia.

“Winds with gusts up to 45 miles per hour (72 km/h) will cause blowing snow and that’s going to cause the worst of it,” Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell told the Weather Channel Saturday night. “We’re urging extreme caution in travel. Try to get home early and if you don’t have to travel don’t go.”

Major airlines were cancelling flights in the storm’s path Sunday. Continental Airlines cancelled 250 departures from Newark Liberty International Airport outside New York City. United Airlines cancelled dozens of Sunday departures from Newark, Philadelphia, New York’s LaGuardia and JFK, Boston and other airports. AirTran and Southwest Airlines also cancelled flights, mostly in or out of Washington Dulles, Baltimore and Newark.

Delta Air Lines spokesman Kent Landers said the airline proactively cancelled about 850 mainline and regional flights systemwide Sunday because of the weather. He said that represents about a sixth of the daily total.

“Most cancellations are concentrated from the Carolinas through New York,” he said.

Mary Sanderson at American Airlines said flights through Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia would likely be cancelled after 2 or 3 p.m. Sunday, with and late starts expected Monday morning.

Most carriers were waiving fees for one-time changes in affected areas and urging passengers to make changes through their websites.

The monster storm is the result of a low pressure system off the North Carolina coast that will strengthen into a major storm as it moves northeast, according to the National Weather Service.

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