WASHINGTON — At a grocery store on H Street, not far from the Capitol, the shelves were nearly picked clean of water bottles by Thursday afternoon. Lawmakers, fearful of the coming blizzard, scurried to catch early flights out of town. And the region’s mass transit system took the rare step of announcing it would shut down for the weekend.
“Washington is not a snow town,” former Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. once famously said, and with forecasters predicting a mid-Atlantic weekend storm of historic proportions, with the capital as its center, officials and citizens here and across the region are scurrying to prepare.
The governors of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia declared states of emergency Thursday, as did Mayor Muriel E. Bowser here; all urged residents to stock up on food and supplies and to stay off roads during the storm. Schools announced Friday closures across the region. In Baltimore, the country music star Garth Brooks postponed two sold-out weekend shows.
Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, urged residents to use mass transit or stay at home as much as possible on Saturday and Sunday, when the worst parts of the storm are expected to cause winds of up to 50 miles per hour and drop between 8 and 12 inches of snow.
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A blizzard watch issued for the New York area and parts of Long Island and New Jersey begins on Saturday morning and lasts until Sunday afternoon.
“We are bracing for the first big storm of the winter,” Mr. de Blasio said.
Along the Jersey Shore, the main concern was not snow but the prospect of wind-driven flooding.
Tim Morrin, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, said that New York remained on the storm’s northern edge. The challenge in predicting the impact, he said, was figuring out how far it would stretch to the north of the city and where the heaviest snow would fall. There would be a much clearer picture on Friday, he said.
Here in Washington, where lamenting the city’s inability to deal with snow is a bipartisan affair, a trial run for what people are calling “Snowmaggedon 2016” did not go smoothly; a mere inch of snow brought Washington to a standstill on Wednesday night. Even President Obama’s motorcade was caught in the gridlock.
By Thursday morning, residents were wondering how the city would cope with two feet when it was crippled by one inch. A sheepish Ms. Bowser apologized at a news conference, saying, “We believe that we did not provide adequate resources at a time when it could have made a difference.”
Forecasters expect roughly two feet of snow to blanket the capital and Baltimore by Sunday morning, with even heavier amounts in Maryland and Virginia, west of the city. If those figures turn out to be accurate, the storm would easily top the February 2010 blizzard, named Snowmaggedon here, that dropped 17.8 inches on the capital.
Patrick Burke, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in College Park, Md., warned people in the hardest-hit areas to expect to lose power and to stay indoors.
“I would just really emphasize to people the hazardous nature of the storm,” Mr. Burke said in an interview. “Since we have the good lead time, go ahead and make your plans to be where you’re going to be and have supplies ready.”
In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan, a first-term Republican, urged people to make sure they had enough food and other essentials for a week; transportation officials said the state had 2,700 pieces of snow-clearing equipment and 365,000 tons of salt ready. During a news conference at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency in a Baltimore suburb, Reisterstown, he predicted it could take as long as a week to clear the roads of snow.
In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a first-term Democrat, has authorized the state’s national guard to call up as many as 500 members to respond to the storm. “Be prepared to take care of yourself and your family for at least 72 hours in case roads are blocked and/or there are power outages,” he warned in a statement.
But perhaps the most extraordinary step is the shuttering of the Metro system, the regional bus and rail service that serves Washington and its Maryland and Northern Virginia suburbs, for the weekend; trains will stop running Friday at 11 p.m. and are not expected to resume until Monday morning.
“We know from the forecast that we are going to need Sunday to get the system back on its feet, so this gives riders the ability to plan,” said Dan Stessell, a Metro spokesman. He said the authorities would park trains in tunnels to keep them dry; while underground service was suspended in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy, he called the advance closure exceedingly rare.
“If it’s happened more than three times in the history of Metro,” he said, “it would be news to me.”
Around Washington on Thursday, people hurried to fill their pantries and stock up on supplies, and by evening, long lines were forming at gas stations in the Northern Virginia suburbs. “Of course I went to the grocery store,” said Anita Dunn, Mr. Obama’s former communications director. “I now have enough toilet paper to last me through the next three snowstorms.”
Some even seemed to be looking forward to a big snow. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s nonvoting member of the House, reminded constituents that it was legal to sled on the Capitol Hill grounds. “Attention D.C. kids and families: Capitol Hill sledding ban has been lifted. Go for it!” she said on Twitter.
Sounds like fun for those who can get out of their homes.
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Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article referred incorrectly, on one reference, to the mayor of Washington. The mayor, Muriel E. Bowser, is a woman.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported from Washington, and Katie Rogers from New York. Reporting was contributed by Nicholas Fandos from Washington, Gary Gately from Baltimore and Christine Hauser from New York.
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