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Flights to northeastern U.S. delayed, cancelled in advance of storm

Last Updated Jan 22, 2016 at 1:28 pm EST

Snow falls in Washington, DC, on Feb. 26, 2015. GETTY IMAGES/Chip Somodevilla.

A number of flights at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport have been delayed or cancelled in advance of a powerful storm set to hit the U.S. East Coast Friday night.

Early Friday Pearson said on Twitter that passengers heading to the East Coast should expect delays. Passengers should check with their airlines before heading to the airport.

Air Canada has also listed a number of U.S. airports expecting delays and disruptions beginning Friday night.

A massive blizzard is heading toward the eastern U.S., with forecasters predicting more than 2 feet (0.61 metres) of snow in Washington. A state of emergency has been declared in five states and the District of Columbia.

Schools and government offices were being closed pre-emptively, thousands of flights cancelled and food and supplies disappeared from grocery and hardware stores. College basketball games and concerts would have to wait.

The capital’s subway system announced that it would shut down entirely late Friday night and remain closed through Sunday for the sake of employee and rider safety. Underground stations usually stay open during major snowstorms.

The director of the National Weather Service said all the ingredients have come together to create blizzards with brutally high winds, dangerous inland flooding, white-out conditions and even the possibility of thunder snow, when lightning strikes through a snowstorm.

The snowfall, expected to continue from late Friday into Sunday, could easily cause more than $1 billion in damage and paralyze the Eastern third of the nation, weather service director Louis Uccellini sad.

“It does have the potential to be an extremely dangerous storm that can affect more than 50 million people,” Uccellini said at the service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

Washington looks like the bull’s-eye of the blizzard, and New York City is just inside the slow-moving storm’s sharp northern edge, which means it is likely to see heavy accumulations, Uccellini said.

Weather Prediction Center meteorologist Paul Kocin estimated more than 2 feet for Washington, a foot to 18 inches (45 centimetres) for Philadelphia and eight inches to a foot in New York.

Unfortunately, more than just snow is coming. Uccellini said it won’t be quite as bad as Superstorm Sandy, but people should expect high winds, a storm surge and inland flooding from Delaware to New York. Other severe but non-snowy weather is likely from Texas to Florida as the storm system chugs across the Gulf Coast, gaining moisture.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama would hunker down at the White House, and is confident local officials will get it right.

On Thursday, icy conditions caused accidents that killed two drivers in North Carolina and one in Tennessee. A truck with a snowplow killed a pedestrian while it was snowing in Maryland.

States of emergency were declared in Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and parts of other states, where road crews were out in force Thursday. Blizzard warnings or watches were in effect along the storm’s path, from Arkansas through Tennessee and Kentucky to the mid-Atlantic states and as far north as New York.

Train service could be disrupted as well, by frozen switches, the loss of third-rail electric power or trees falling on overhead wires. About 1,000 track workers will be deployed to keep New York City’s subway system moving, and 79 trains will have “scraper shoes” to reduce icing on the rails, the Metropolitan Transit Authority said.

All major airlines have issued waivers for travel over the weekend, allowing passengers to rebook onto earlier or later flights to avoid the storms. The flight tracking site FlightAware estimates airlines will cancel at least 2,000 flights Friday and another 3,000 Saturday, which is the slowest travel days of the week. By Sunday afternoon, however, the airlines hope to be back to full schedule.

Borenstein reported from College Park, Maryland. Associated Press writers Juliet Linderman in Baltimore, Jessica Gresko in Washington and AP Airlines Writer Scott Mayerowitz in New York contributed to this report.