Blizzard strikes East Coast; motorists stranded for hours in Kentucky

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Up to 85 million people are in the path of a worsening winter storm that’s iced up much of the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic.

Snow is coming down, but when the storm goes into the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday morning, it will supercharge, CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers said.

“The fuse was just lit,” Myers said. Once it gets to the Gulf Stream, “that’s when the firecracker goes off.”

Here are the latest developments as of 7:45 a.m. ET:

— Baltimore and Washington escaped the night mostly unscathed, though they’re not out of the woods yet, according to city officials. Baltimore had considerable snow but “no major issues” until a fire around 5:30 a.m. in the northeast part of the city, which led to “one serious injury,” city emergency management director Robert Maloney told CNN.

— A weather-related traffic backup on southbound Interstate 75 in Kentucky is about 35 miles long — between mile marker 76 and 41, state trooper Kendra Wilson told CNN on Saturday morning. People have been stuck on the highway for more than 12 hours.

— New York snowfall forecasts have increased — 16 inches “is not out of the question,” CNN Meteorologist Derek Van Dam said.

— Philadelphia is suspending much of its public transportation for Saturday.

— Two people died Friday night in traffic accidents linked to inclement weather in North Carolina, said spokeswoman Olivia James of the State Emergency Response Team.

— Philadelphia issued a code blue for overnight Friday into Saturday. This means anyone who spots homeless people out in the cold should call the police, who will take them to a shelter.

By the numbers:

  • 1/10th of a mile visibility in Baltimore on Saturday morning due to heavy snow.
  • Eight people dead nationwide (Six fatalities were in North Carolina, one in Virginia and one in Kentucky.)
  • 11 states declared states of emergency. They are: Georgia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Kentucky, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia. Washington has declared a “snow emergency.”
  • 18-40 inches of snow are possible in some areas, according to meteorologists.
  • 55 mph wind gusts are possible in Norfolk, Virginia.
  • 989 traffic crashes and 793 disabled vehicles were responded to by Virginia State Police as of late Friday night.
  • 9,290 flights were canceled from Friday through Sunday, according to FlightAware.com.
  • 159,162 customers in 13 states are without power because of the storm, according to various energy companies. More than 150,000 of them are in the Carolinas.
  • 33 million people are under blizzard warnings.

Stranded

In the unrelenting snow, Dani Garner sat stuck in her minivan for eight hours on an interstate in Kentucky. Lines of stranded cars and trucks snaked ahead of and behind her. Her husband, their three children ages 2, 3 and 14, and her mother-in-law were in the car.

“We’ve got no food or water,” she told CNN. Luckily, Garner and her family had gas in their tank and could run the heater. “Honestly, if my van wasn’t heated up I’d probably be boxed in with ice right now.”

A stretch of Interstate 75 had frozen over, Kentucky State Police said. Police could not say how many people were stranded, but images on social media showed a highway resembling a long parking lot.

Storm strands family in car for 8 hours]
Storm strands family in car for 8 hours 02:42

“It’s truck after truck after truck and cars sliding off the roadway,” said Kentucky State Police Capt. David Jude. “We’re going car to car now to get people off the road.”

Among those trapped is Caitlin Centner, a reporter for CNN affiliate WKYT.

She’s been on the highway since 5:30 p.m. Friday and had “not moved a single inch since,” she told CNN early Saturday morning.

Centner said she can see more than 100 cars for about a half-mile ahead of her. People nearby are running out of gas, and many have been without food and water for a long time.

She met a family, also stuck, that was traveling from Detroit to Georgia for a funeral Saturday morning.

Washington’s 10 biggest blizzards

A snow plow driver in Fairfax, Virginia, told CNN that the storm is “starting to get worse. It’s pretty thick. This is an all new experience for us.”

“Past winters were much easier, much easier,” he said.

Forecast: What’s the outlook?

Snow. Lots and lots of snow.

From midnight until noon Saturday, the forecast shows snowfall rates could potentially reach 10 inches every six hours, according to Chris Geldart of the District of Columbia’s emergency management agency.

The snow arrived in Washington Friday afternoon and quickly intensified, with a depth of 2½ feet possible by the time the last flakes fall Saturday night, Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

The storm could be the largest in Washington’s history, and will probably rank in the top five in terms of snowfall accumulation.

Baltimore may get 19-29 inches between Friday and Saturday night, according to the National Weather Service. The agency tweeted that the worst of the storm will run from 1 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Hurricane-force wind gusts will be possible Saturday along the Eastern Seaboard, with moderate flooding likely.

The wind, which could reach up to 50 mph or higher, is a big concern, as are sleet and black ice, which are affecting roads in North Carolina, according to the state’s department of transportation.

Get. Off. The. Roads.

We all know those folks who fly down the road, no matter the conditions. Officials don’t want them — or anyone else — on the roads this weekend.

In Washington, Mayor Bowser spared no words in a warning to residents about the oncoming storm.

“It has life and death implications, and (people) should treat it that way,” she said. “People should hunker down, shelter in place and stay off the roads.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie asked motorists not to interfere with snowplows and salt trucks. He authorized transit officials to suspend service at 2 a.m. Saturday.

“People need to understand the gravity of what is coming our way,” said Geldart, with the District of Columbia’s emergency management agency. “This is a dangerous storm. It is time to be indoors.”

Why milk, bread and toilet paper when it snows?

Outages, cancellations and postponements

As the storm’s impact widens as it moves north, power outages are expected to soar.

Most airports in the Mid-Atlantic virtually were shut down. United Airlines, for instance, said operations at Dulles and D.C. metro airports were suspended, with plans to resume limited flights on Sunday night.

The ripple effect extended to Los Angeles International Airport, with 86 canceled arriving and departing flights.

Public transportation and train travel felt the storm’s effects too. Mass transit services in Washington and Baltimore have been suspended for the weekend. And some Amtrak service to and from the East Coast has either been canceled or truncated.

To top it off, the winter storm has forced the postponement of hundreds of events — including NBA games in Philadelphia and Washington, plus an NHL contest in the nation’s capital, as well as a rally for the Carolina Panthers ahead of their NFC professional football championship in Charlotte.