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Washington Grinds to Halt in Winter Wallop

Image: Tourists walk on the National Mall in Washington

Tourists walk on the National Mall in Washington, DC, January 21, 2014, as snow falls during a storm. The northeastern United States hunkered down Tuesday for a major snowstorm that forecasters warned could leave as much as one foot (30 centimeters) of snow in some places. Downtown Washington fell virtually silent after the federal government, seeing the swift-moving cold front approaching, closed its doors and told civil servants to stay home. Many offices and schools followed suit, as 20 mile (32 kilometer) per hour winds whipped the falling snow through the unusually quiet streets. Enough snow was expected to fall on the US capital to turn the evening rush hour into a Beltway traffic nightmare, as the storm churned its way into New York and the northeastern New England states. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEBSAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images SAUL LOEB / AFP - Getty Images

The nation’s capital was at a standstill Tuesday evening as snow continued falling at a rate of about an inch an hour — while commuters across the Northeast struggled to get home through blizzard-like conditions.

The wintry wallop brought as much as a foot of snow and another blast of arctic air, snarling traffic, closing schools and shutting down the federal government.

Initially forecast to be a modest blurt of cold weather, the system has intensified, unleashing wind-driven snow and frosty air on the Northeast Tuesday night into Wednesday.

Arctic Blast Snarls Travel 3:32

In D.C., most offices of the government were shut down Tuesday — although the Supreme Court justices did show up for work — and officials were asking residents to stay off the roads.

"We've had about 80+ calls for personal injury collisions today," said Scott Graham, assistant chief of nearby Montgomery County, Md., Fire and Rescue, told NBCWashington. "Some of which have been very minor... turning out to be property damage; some more significant, with minor traumatic injuries, vehicles overturning."

The capital was set to see about a half-foot of snow and wind gusts of 30 mph, while Boston could see around 8 inches and wind gusts up to 40 mph.

Meanwhile, governors in Delaware, New Jersey and New York on Tuesday afternoon declared states of emergency as blizzard conditions hit along the heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor.

"This winter storm will bring a one-two punch of snow and extreme cold. I urge all those in the affected regions to exercise caution, and avoid travel if possible," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

“Every once in while these little winter storms go bananas and we think this might be the one,” said Kevin Roth, a lead meteorologist with the Weather Channel.

Major snowstorm to blanket Midwest, Northeast 4:02

Up and down the East Coast, area schools and city and state governments hunkered down, but with more than 3,000 flights cancelled, many airports were virtual ghost towns as well.

More than 6,300 flights were delayed and another 3,295 were canceled by 7:30 p.m., according to FlightAware.com. More than 900 flights for Wednesday have already been nixed.

A winter storm warning was in effect for New York City and the surrounding areas by the National Weather Service from noon Tuesday through Wednesday morning, and Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city has activated all of its emergency preparation systems, according to NBC New York.

The heaviest snow was expected in the later afternoon into the evening. Overnight lows could reach the single digits with the wind chill making it feel like 5 below.

The storm has already led some school districts in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky to send students home early Tuesday or cancel classes ahead of time.

It has also forced New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to scrap a party Tuesday night on Ellis Island in celebration of his second inauguration.

In Philadelphia, a Tuesday night game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes was postponed due to the snow emergency declared in the city.

With federal workers in D.C. told to stay home, Tom Ripley, who works at a Washington hardware store, said his morning commute was cut in half because “there was almost no one on the road.”

He said the store was jammed Monday as customers stocked up on ice melt and shovels.

“Nobody prepares because we never get any snow, so the slightest chance of it, everybody freaks out,” Ripley said.

Coupled with the snow is another bone-chilling winter blast, but it’s not the same as the polar vortex that plunged temperatures to record lows two weeks ago. With the wind chill, the air will feel 10 degrees below zero or worse in some parts.

Temperatures “have already dropped 30 to 40 degrees across the Dakotas, Iowa and Minnesota, and 35 in Chicago,” Roth said. “That cold air is going to drop into the South and then there’s another surge of cold air coming on Friday.”

Meanwhile, lake-effect snow is expected in parts of Michigan and Indiana, with as much as a foot likely throughout parts of northern Indiana on Tuesday.

The storm began hammering the upper Midwest early Tuesday. When all is over, Southern Ohio is expected to get 3 to 5 inches, while the Central Appalachians — through West Virginia and western Maryland — could pick up 5 inches to a foot of snow.

In anticipation of the storm, Ohio Gov. John Kasich followed the lead of officials in 17 other states — mostly in the Midwest and North — who declared energy emergencies and loosened rules for propane.

In many of these states, residents are also being urged to cut down on propane use as supplies become limited.

While the eastern U.S. struggles with the snow, the West Coast will remain high and dry, Roth said. The ongoing ddrought om California has created ideal conditions for wildfires.

“Perhaps next week we can talk about rain coming to California,” Roth added.

NBC News’ Becky Bratu and Elisha Fieldstadt, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.