Winter Storm Blasts East Coast

Up to 2 feet expected; airports closed, officials ask people to stay off roads.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2009 — -- A wicked winter snowstorm has left five people dead and has made any sort of travel a nightmare, with roadways becoming increasingly impassable and air traffic across the East Coast halted until at least Sunday morning.

One Virginian was reported as having been killed in a traffic accident caused by "slick roads," according to The Associated Press, and another of the five deaths may have been caused by poor conditions on the road.

Another death is believed to have been caused by exposure to low temperatures, according to the AP, and two others in Ohio were killed in accidents on the snowy roads.

Already being hailed as the "Blizzard of '09," the snowstorm has broken a 77-year record for snowfall in the nation's capital in the month of December.

By late Saturday night, 16 inches of snow had fallen at Reagan National Airport outside Washington, the most ever recorded for a single December day. Philadelphia was also buried under 16 inches of snow.

More than 18 inches fell in Arlington, Va., in Ashburn, Va., 19 inches were recorded, while Centreville had 22 inches.

With all the snow in and around the Washington, D.C., area, the nation's capital, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia declared states of emergency because of the blizzard and urged drivers to stay off the roads, many of which were virtually buried by the unrelenting snow as of 4 p.m.

The airports in the Northeast, which began cancelling flights ahead of the storm Friday evening, are continuing to do so today, leaving thousands of travelers stranded at their local airports.

"There have literally been hundreds of cancelations up and down the East Coast," FAA spokesman Les Dorr told ABC News.

Ronald Reagan National Airport has been shut down until at least 6 a.m. Sunday morning and no more flights will be leaving today, and Baltimore-Washington International Airport shut down earlier.

Winter Storm Blasts East Coast, Five Reported Dead

According to the Federal Aviation Adminstration, so far 1,223 flights have been cancelled throughout Boston, Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey.

Emergency responders have been rushing to aid stranded drivers across the region: Virginia State Troopers responded to more than 4,000 calls by drivers stuck on snowy roads even before noon. Many of those stranded on area highways were sent to local shelters, which opened to take in motorists unable to make it home tonight.

In Maryland earlier today, a snowplow made matters worse when it pushed as much as 18 inches of snow onto a ramp where 20 vehicles were hoping to get on the highway to get home. A state trooper, also stranded with the cars, was able to call for help and get all of the drivers and passengers out safely.

Waldo Wentz, 56, tried in vain to get a cab in deserted downtown Washington, to get to a friend's house for a Christmas party in Maryland.

"My friends' kids are going to be disappointed if Santa doesn't arrive with these presents," he said, his arms loaded with gifts, a yule log and cookies.

McKinsey Harris, who was expecting a four-hour commute from western Virginia to Washington, wound up stuck for nearly a full day.

"I have never seen anything like this," Harris said. "I've seen overturned cars, tractor trailers sliding off the road. I had no idea how to handle this weather and I have now been stuck in it for almost 24 hours. So I guess I've learned and I've also learned to always have you know a blanket, food, water, everything with me just in case something like this is to happen ever again."

Five hundred to 1,000 drivers were stranged on a highway in Rockbridge County, Va., where rescue crews are offering people rides to nearby shelters before temperatures get any lower.

In Washington D.C., most public transportation -- including Metrorail buses -- were suspended after 1 p.m. Saturday because of the deteriorating road conditions.

And for those shoppers brave enough to face the storm, few lines awaited them at shopping malls and stores, an unusual site for one of the year's busiest shopping days just a week before Christmas.

Winter Storm Blasts East Coast, Five Reported Dead

Even the National Football League is feeling the cold effects of the storm, with the blizzard hampering the Chicago Bears' travel plans into Baltimore Friday night. The team, which is still trying to get into the area from the Midwest tonight, is scheduled to play Sunday against the Ravens, a game already postponed to 4:15 pm.

The blizzard did not stop Emily Lake and Tony McCormack from tying the knot. They married today at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Silver Spring, Md., even though their wedding band had already cancelled due to the weather.

Many churches along the eastern coridor have also suspended Sunday church services, reminding parishioners that church law includes a provision for "grave cause" to miss Mass at church. Instead, the dioceses are urging Catholics to watch Mass on telvision or listen to Masses broadcast on the radio or on the Internet if their roads are "unsafe."

But not everyone thought the snowstorm was bad -- a group of Twitter users organized a massive snowball fight by communicating through the social media site in downtown Washington, D.C.