Central Virginia will avoid the brunt of a major winter storm bearing down on the Mid-Atlantic and the northeastern U.S., but the nor'easter could create some slick roads locally and will complicate plans for air travelers today.
Dozens of flights to and from Richmond have been canceled. Drivers with long commutes north and west of Richmond also could be affected by the storm, which is forecast to dump several inches of snow on Northern Virginia and other parts of the state.
Meteorologists were calling for snowfall totals as high as 20 inches in New York City from the storm's start late Monday through this evening. The National Weather Service warned that blizzard conditions of wind gusts over 35 mph and low visibility would extend from the Philadelphia area to Maine.
The weather service's office near Philadelphia called the storm "life-threatening" and warned people to "shelter in place." Coastal flooding also was predicted.
The forecast for Virginia was gloomy enough to prompt Gov. Terry McAuliffe to declare a state of emergency Monday afternoon, authorizing state agencies to assist local governments in a subsequent 24-hour period with preparing for and responding to the storm.
"All Virginians should take the necessary precautions now to ensure they are prepared for travel disruptions and possible power outages during a cold weather period," McAuliffe said in a statement.
As of Monday evening, 61 flights scheduled for today had been canceled to and from Richmond International Airport, and airport spokesman Troy Bell expected additional cancellations.
The forecast was enough to grab the attention of local school districts, with Hanover County Public Schools tweeting a picture of the singer Vanilla Ice and the message: "ICE, ICE...MAYBE! Yes, we'll be up at o'early thirty checking conditions to see if Mother Nature is going to cooperate or not. Stay tuned!"
Henrico County schools spokesman Andy Jenks said late Monday that he was not anticipating any delays for his district but added: "I'll sleep with one eye open tonight in case something changes, but we're following the local forecasts and not expecting an impact to normal operations at this time."
The Louisa County school system said late Monday that it would operate on a two-hour delay and that it would re-evaluate the road conditions in the morning.
Forecasters projected that a wintry mix could fall on the Richmond area in the overnight hours and this morning - which the Virginia Department of Transportation said could be enough to make roads slick. Of particular concern are areas north and west of Richmond, especially on bridges, overpasses, and shaded or low-lying areas.
While VDOT said it would be on standby, spokeswoman Bethanie Glover noted the department would not be able to pretreat roads because rain that is expected before any snow or sleet would wash away the anti-icing materials.
Virginia State Police released a statement Monday suggesting drivers delay travel.
"To prevent unnecessary traffic crashes from occurring on Virginia's highways during the storm, state police advises residents to postpone travel plans and avoid driving, when possible," state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller wrote in a statement.
At least eight flights at Richmond International Airport were canceled for Monday, mostly between Richmond and Chicago, but not all of those were necessarily due to weather.
RIC's canceled flights for today include Boston, New York, Philadelphia and even a round-trip to Washington Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia.
Passengers should check with their airline about flight status. Bell said airlines typically offer waivers that enable rescheduling without a penalty.
RIC typically has about 150 flights - arrivals and departures - per day on weekdays.
Nationally, about 5,000 flights for today were canceled as of late Monday afternoon, and Amtrak canceled and modified service up and down the Northeast Corridor.
In New York City, the above-ground portions of the subway system were being shut down from 4 a.m. today. Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy imposed a statewide travel ban beginning at 5 a.m.
The forecast prompted early decisions to close schools today in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston and many places in between.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio urged residents to avoid unnecessary travel and to help keep the roads clear.
"We're preparing for a significant storm on Tuesday, and New Yorkers should also prepare for snow and dangerous road conditions," de Blasio said.
The storm comes a week after the Northeast saw temperatures climb into the 60s. Spring officially starts Monday.
The heaviest snowfall was expected this morning through the afternoon, with snowfall rates as high as 2 to 4 inches per hour. Coastal flood warnings were in effect from Massachusetts to Delaware.
Boston could get 12 to 18 inches, with isolated amounts of up to 2 feet across northeastern Massachusetts. Philadelphia could get up to a foot of snow.
In Washington, where the National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled to start Wednesday, snow accumulations of 6 to 8 inches were expected.
That led German Chancellor Angela Merkel to postpone her trip to Washington for her first face-to-face meeting with President Donald Trump. Merkel had been scheduled to arrive late Monday for meetings with Trump today. The White House said the meetings were rescheduled for Friday.
Baltimore is expected to get 8 to 12 inches.
The storm also changed plans for some teams competing in the NCAA men's basketball tournament: Villanova, the top overall seed in the tournament, left Philadelphia early to get ahead of the storm.
As the East Coast prepared, the Midwest was hit with snow, forcing a number of flight cancellations. In Chicago, the forecast called for 3 to 6 inches of snow, the city's first significant snowfall since mid-December.
Southern portions of Minnesota got more than 9 inches of snow in some areas. In Michigan, utility crews worked in the snow to restore power to those still without electricity following high winds that hit the state on Wednesday.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.