New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts declared states of emergencies as tens of millions of people were urged to stay home with transit systems suspending services.
The potentially historic storm poses the latest challenge to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been under fire in recent weeks from police who criticized his support of public protests about white police violence against black men.
The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for New York City and surrounding areas between coastal New Jersey and Connecticut, forecast to worsen overnight.
The blizzard knocked out a number of entertainment events. Monday night home games were postponed for the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, comedian Louis C.K. nixed his final show set for Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, and Broadway performances in New York City were canceled for Monday.
The United Nations headquarters gave itself a day off on Tuesday and schools across the East Coast dismissed students early on Monday and canceled classes for Tuesday, with those in Boston staying closed until Thursday.
"Hallelujah!" said Olivia Fitzsimmons, 8, as she headed home early from her elementary school in Maplewood, New Jersey.
"After the blizzard, I’m going to make a girlfriend for him," she said standing next to a carrot-nosed snowman in her yard.
Even Wall Street traders rushed home, although exchanges remained opened.
As much as 24 inches of snow from the "crippling and potentially historic blizzard" was expected to blanket many areas along the East Coast, the weather service said. Winds topping 55 miles per hour were predicted to lash New York City and its suburbs, raising the potential for power outages caused by tree limbs falling on overhead utility lines.
'VERY HARD, VERY FAST'
Generators, snow blowers, shovels and firewood were sold out by early Monday at a Home Depot in Vauxhall, New Jersey. At a Shaw's Supermarket in Somerville, Massachusetts, canned food shelves were thinned and checkout lines long. In Brooklyn, grocery store shelves were stripped of bread and bottled water.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said city streets would be closed indefinitely to all traffic except emergency vehicles starting at 11 p.m. ET Monday and warned New Yorkers, famous for ordering take-out meals, to step up to the challenge.
"A food-delivery bicycle is not an emergency vehicle," de Blasio said.
De Blasio, who had been vilified for keeping schools open during last season's harshest weather, ordered the nation's largest school system, with more than 1 million students, closed on Tuesday.
"What you're going to see in a few hours is something that hits very hard and very fast," de Blasio told reporters at an afternoon news conference.
Vacationers and business travelers faced headaches as airlines canceled about 2,700 flights, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware, including nearly 700 flights at the three main airports serving New York City. At Boston's Logan International Airport, the last passenger flight was to leave around 7 p.m. EST.
STATE OF EMERGENCY
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency and deployed National Guard troops to a number of counties in the southern part of the state as well as New York City.
New York authorities said they were considering a total travel ban on main roads, starting at 11 p.m. EST.
"It could be a matter of life and death so caution is required," Cuomo said. "Mother Nature has decided once again to visit us in an extreme way."
New York City subways, which carry 5.5 million riders daily, will run on a normal schedule until about 8 p.m., when service will be curtailed to allow subway cars and equipment to be stowed, Cuomo said at a news conference.
Two major commuter railroads, Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road, will run normally until 11 p.m., Cuomo said.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declared a state of emergency, and sent all but the most essential government workers home on Monday afternoon, telling them not to return until Wednesday at the earliest. New Jersey Transit commuter trains will stop running for at least one day, beginning at 10 p.m. on Monday, he said.
The governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut told residents to expect driving bans later tonight and all day tomorrow.
"We are anticipating an historic, top-five storm, based on the snowfall," Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said.
The Boston-area transit system will be shut on Tuesday, and coastal areas will likely suffer flooding, he said.
Connecticut's Governor Dannel Malloy told reporters in Hartford that hundreds of thousands of people could lose power.
President Barack Obama, who is traveling in New Delhi, India, was briefed on the coming storm earlier on Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
The biggest snowfall on record in New York City came during the storm of Feb. 11-12, 2006, dropping 26.9 inches, according to the city's Office of Emergency Management.