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US East Coast Prepares for Major Snowstorm

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A hardware store employee walks past a pallet of ice melt while restocking a display of snow shovels in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Jan. 20, 2016.

A hardware store employee walks past a pallet of ice melt while restocking a display of snow shovels in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Jan. 20, 2016.

Residents of the eastern United States are preparing for a major storm that threatens to dump as much as 60 centimeters of snow on Washington, D.C., the capital.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser Thursday declared a state of emergency ahead of the expected blizzard and issued a snow emergency that is set to begin Friday following the morning rush hour. Washington schools are also closed Friday due to the approaching storm, which is expected to cause widespread power outages and paralyze travel. States of emergency were also declared in Maryland as well as in Virginia, where the governor, Terry McAuliffe, said people should "take the threat of this storm seriously."

The Potomac River is covered in ice ahead of a major storm that threatens to dump as much as 60 centimeters of snow on Washington, D.C., the capital, Jan. 21, 2016. (photo by Diaa Bekheet)

The Potomac River is covered in ice ahead of a major storm that threatens to dump as much as 60 centimeters of snow on Washington, D.C., the capital, Jan. 21, 2016. (photo by Diaa Bekheet)

The storm is expected to affect millions of people from Kentucky through New England late Friday through Sunday.

Forecasters predict it is likely to hit after the traditional Monday through Friday work week is over.

Many meteorologists say the various forecast models and readings that frequently disagree on the path of big storms all concur that it will be strong as it comes up the Atlantic coast and pulls in moisture.

Computer forecast models are calling for a windy, slow-moving system.

Rich Otto, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center outside Washington said Tuesday an upper-level disturbance in the air was moving from the Pacific Ocean to the Rockies to the southern Plains. It was predicted to become a "nor'easter" Friday evening over the mid-Atlantic and then move up the coast on Saturday.

A nor'easter gets its name from the northeasterly winds that blow in from the ocean ahead of the storm. These storms form along the U.S. East Coast as warm air from over the Atlantic Ocean clashes with Arctic cold to the north and west.

Along with strong winds, beach erosion and possible flooding in the affected areas are expected.

Meanwhile, many people in the Washington area were surprised by light snowfall, Wednesday night, that left many snarled in traffic and cities rushing to deploy emergency vehicles. Mayor Bowser apologized Thursday for her administration's response to the minor storm, in which untreated, icy roads led to messy, hours-long commutes and accidents.

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