Near-whiteout conditions as bomb cyclone pounds NYC; thousands of flights cancelled

Thousands of flights across the United States have been scrapped or delayed as a winter storm sweeps across the East Coast.

More than 2,800 flights -- including dozens at Chicago's O'Hare Airport -- were wiped out before sunrise on Thursday, well before the worst of the storm for the Northeast, according to FlightAware.

According to O'Hare's Twitter account, nearly 250 flights have been cancelled to and from East Coast cities.

East Coast travel hubs were hit hardest.

More than 90% of flights at New York's La Guardia Airport were canceled, the airport said on Twitter. American Airlines suspended departures from Boston on Thursday because of strong winds and heavy snow. And flights were severely restricted at Newark Liberty in New Jersey.

A dreaded "bomb cyclone" is pummeling the East Coast, hurling blinding snow and wind gusts akin to a Category 1 hurricane.

More than 13 million people are under blizzard warnings, from Virginia all the way to Maine.

"The situation has continued to deteriorate," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday, as snow predictions in his state grew more dire.

The bomb cyclone, which developed overnight, occurs when a low-pressure system has a significant, rapid drop in atmospheric pressure.

That spells wind gusts as strong as 80 mph along the coast, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said. It's basically like enduring a weak hurricane -- except getting blasted by snow instead of rain.

Chunks of ocean ice could fly inland, thanks to mammoth 13- to 18-foot waves, and coastal flooding is likely, he said.

Now, millions of Americans are paralyzed by the storm -- with thousands of flights grounded, hundreds of schools closed and grocery store shelves emptied.

Latest developments

• Massive snowfall expected: The projected snowfall for New York increased Thursday, with up to 10 inches expected in New York City; and up to 12 inches on Long Island, Cuomo said.

Forecasters predict more than a foot of snow in Boston; up to 8 inches in New York City; and up to 6 inches in Philadelphia.

• Deadly conditions: At least 16 people have died this week due to severe weather, officials said. Six deaths were reported in Wisconsin, four in Texas, three in North Carolina, and one each in Michigan, Missouri and North Dakota.

• Going dark -- with no heat: More than 40,000 customers in Virginia and North Carolina had no power Thursday, according to provider Dominion Energy. And a day after the storm struck the Southeast, more than 8,000 customers were also without power in Florida, according to Duke Energy.

• Travel nightmares begin: More than 3,100 US flights have been canceled for Thursday, according to At New York City's LaGuardia Airport, 90% of Thursday's flights are canceled. And American Airlines has suspended all departures from Boston.

• Schools shuttered: At least 11 major school districts in the Northeast closed Thursday, including those in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Providence, Rhode Island.

Weak phone connection? Get the text-only version of top stories, also en Español

Governor: Power won't be fixed in extreme winds

In Connecticut, Gov. Dan Malloy urged residents to stay off roads. The forecast calls for a minimum of 6 inches of snow and winds as strong as 50 mph, potentially hindering utility repairs should power lines go down.

"We cannot and will not order people up in trucks to fix lines when the winds are too high," Malloy said.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and urged Virginians to prepare for the storm, which could dump as much as a foot of snow in parts of eastern Virginia.

"With this forecast in mind, all Virginians should take the necessary precautions now to ensure they are prepared for the travel disruptions, power outages and other threats to health and safety that could arise during this significant weather event," McAuliffe said.

Record-breaking temperatures on the way

Dozens of cities are set to endure record-breaking cold, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.

New York City and Philadelphia will plummet to 3 degrees this weekend. Boston will plunge to 7 degrees below zero -- plus up to a foot of snow.

New York City sanitation workers are preparing to deploy 2,200 plows to help clear the streets. The snow, combined with "exceptionally strong winds," means crews will be working in near-whiteout conditions, New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia said.

Snowfall blankets the Southeast

Before the storm pushed north, cities in the Southeast that rarely see snow became winter wonderlands. But the novelty also turned dangerous

The South Carolina Highway Patrol reported dozens of wrecks as snow and sleet fell.

Parts of South Carolina saw 5 to 6 inches of snow Wednesday, requiring more than 13,000 tons of salt, Gov. Henry McMaster said.

But it's not over yet for South Carolina. McMaster warned that temperatures were expected to remain below freezing through Monday.

Bomb cyclones collect cold air

Bomb cyclones often draw colder air in from the north, then blast out icy temperatures.

They frequently occur in North America, when cold air collides with warm air over the Atlantic Ocean -- though they've also been reported in eastern Asia and South America.

The bomb cyclone now blasting the Northeast actually doubled the rate necessary to earn it that classification.

It rapidly intensified overnight, undergoing bombogenesis -- or a pressure drop of 24 millibars in less than 24 hours.

This bomb cyclone dropped 53 millibars in just 21 hours, intensifying faster than any such occurrence in recent history.