Flight delays and cancellations are shown at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
(USA TODAY) -- A winter storm lashing the East Coast Tuesday is bringing heavy snow, strong winds and frigid temperatures to 50 million people in major metropolitan centers as it races from North Carolina to New England.
As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, snow was falling in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City and Hartford. Many parts of the Philadelphia area had already picked up as much as six inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service.
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At least 2,000 flights were canceled Tuesday morning nationwide and more than 200 have been delayed, according to FlightAware.com.
Snow is also wreaking travel havoc in parts of the Midwest: A nearly 60-mile stretch of Interstate 65 - both northbound and southbound - is closed in southern Indiana due to ice, snow and numerous crashes.
The Weather Channel also reports that heavy lake-effect snow near Gary, Ind., has stopped traffic on a section of I-80/94. Close to 20 inches of snow had been reported in Gary.
"Today's one of those days if you don't have to be out, you should just stay home," said Sgt. Jerry Goodin, spokesman for the Indiana State Police post in Sellersburg.
Winter storm warnings are in effect along much of the Interstate 95 corridor up the coast, with expected accumulations of 6-12 inches, according to AccuWeather. Temperatures across the eastern U.S. will be 10 to 25 degrees below average.
Some of the worst conditions will hit the nation's capital, Baltimore and Philadelphia in the afternoon and evening hours, and the New York-Boston corridor from late afternoon through the overnight hours Tuesday night.
Anticipating a commuting nightmare, the federal government closed offices in the Washington area. Both chambers of Delaware's General Assembly also canceled sessions.
Michael Ferrell, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, said the district generally provides night shelter for about 2,000 homeless people on cold winter nights.
"We will keep existing shelters open 24 hours a day until the cold spell breaks," Ferrell said. He said some recreational facilities will be opened. Transit buses might even be strategically placed around the district as temporary warming sites.
Schools in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Indiana and Kentucky were sending students home early or staying closed for an extra day after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.
The snow Tuesday morning canceled classes for more than 150,000 students across northern Kentucky and southern Indiana.
For Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, it was the fifth time this school year parents had to scramble to find childcare so they can work because of weather.
"This is getting beyond ridiculous," said Sarah Hansen, who was scraping an inch of ice off her windshield early Tuesday morning in order to take her two children to a friend's house. "I understand why they are canceling school, but as a working parent, I can't take five days off from work."
The prospect of heavy snow and dangerous driving conditions were cited for a decision to cancel a post-inaugural party Tuesday evening on Ellis Island for embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
"The greatest totals are likely for southern New England, and gusty winds are likely in this area to accompany the snow," said weather service meteorologist David Hamrick. Blizzard conditions are likely in southeastern Massachusetts.
The heaviest snow is expected to develop as a cold front over the Tennessee Valley moves toward the North Carolina coast, picking up moisture from the Atlantic as it turns left and races up the coast.
There will be little relief from the frigid air after the storm system passes. Just as commuters are digging out from the day-long snowstorm Wednesday morning, bitterly cold air will spread across the East. High temperatures will be at least 10 to 20 degrees below average, even as far south as Miami.
Meanwhile, while the East shivers, the West continues to see a very warm, dry weather pattern, Hamrick said: "The ongoing drought is worsening and no significant relief appears in sight this week."
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