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Millions in Path of Monster Winter Storm; Dangerous Blizzard Storm Threatens U.S. East Coast. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 22, 2016 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


TAPPER: -- just eight days before the Iowa caucuses. That's it for "THE LEAD" today. I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Please stay warm; please stay safe. Have a good weekend.

[17:00:16] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, state of emergency. Right now more than 85 million Americans they are in the path of a monster storm. Already many are getting pounded -- many are getting pounded by snow, freezing rain, high winds. Forecasters warning that before it's over, this blizzard could go down as one of the worst storms in U.S. history.

Treacherous roads. In states up and down the eastern U.S., driving conditions are deteriorating by the minute. City, state and federal governments they have shut down. Major sporting events are being canceled. The dangerous conditions could last for days.

And weight of the snow. Tonight, there's growing concern about the buildup of heavy wet snow falling for hour after hour. Roofs could collapse. Trees and power lines are at risk. Stand by for new information, information you need to know.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, a monster storm slamming the south and now moving up the East Coast. It's living up to its billing. Forecasters warning us it could be historic, and you're looking at history in the making.

Arkansas, Tennessee, the Carolinas all lashed by snow, sleet and ice. And now Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York all in line for blizzard conditions that could dump two feet or more of snow on tens of millions of people.

Emergencies have been declared through much of the eastern third of the United States. Many are certain to lose power as the snow is whipped by winds that may reach more than 60 miles an hour. More than 6,000 flights already have been canceled. Washington's bus system now shutting down. We have all the latest information, information that you need to know.

Our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. our correspondents, analysts and guests, they are standing by. We're covering this story as only CNN can.

Let's begin with CNN's Brian Todd, who is out on the roads around Washington. Brian, where are you now?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're in Arlington, Virginia, along 395, heading north toward Washington, D.C. The conditions are just getting very, very bad right now.

Often in these situations, I can say that conditions deteriorated gradually. You cannot say that tonight. They have gone downhill very, very quickly since the snow started to hit this area in earnest just a few hours ago.

Visibility is a huge issue right now. We were told that, at its best, visibility might be about a quarter mile in front of you.

I'll switch to the dash cam as we pull off 395, trying to find a place to show you some of these traffic patterns here. The dash cam showing visibility in front of us not very good. And it's getting worse, Wolf.

Our photojournalist, Ted Suey (ph) and I are going to find a place here to pull over so we can get out and show you some of these conditions here.

Virginia State Police a short time ago told us, Wolf, they have responded to more than 1,100 calls for help today. More than 500 accidents have been reported so far just in the state of Virginia.

And, again, conditions here starting to deteriorate as we -- as we get into the evening hours. We're heading into the worst part of the storm very, very soon.

Out the dash cam here you can see in Arlington, Virginia, people are struggling just to move a few feet. We're going to try to pull over right here, show you some of this. Kenny, let's try to find a place here. Let's cut in the road right here. We'll be good to pull over.

Wolf, we have seen snowplow trucks struggling to get by. We have seen a lot of cars struggling to get up hills and things like that. And, again, we haven't even hit the worst of this stuff yet.

We're going to pull over here and get out of the vehicle so we can show you this area of Crystal City in Arlington County, Virginia, here that is just really getting plowed over here with snow.

And again, in these evening hours here, we are -- it's just going to get worse. The worst snow is going to be between midnight and 9 a.m.

Come out here. Showing you a look at this visibility, Wolf. What we were hearing earlier is that not only is the volume of snow and the wetness of the snow going to be a big issue, but as our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, said, you're going to start seeing thunder snow in some of the later hours here.

Visibility horrible right now. The good news is that a lot of people have heeded the warnings and gotten off the roads. But as you can see over here in Crystal City in the -- in Arlington County, conditions here are getting worse; 395 is already getting snowed over up here.

This is as the storm starts to hit this area right now in full force.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): For millions the snowstorm of a lifetime is heading into its heaviest stages. It was an early arrival, with snowfall seen on the southern edges of Washington's Beltway before noon. By then D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had issued another serious warning.

MURIEL BOWSER, MAYOR OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: We see this as a major storm. It has life and death implications.

TODD: Tennessee and North Carolina were hit first early Friday with snow and ice pounding Charlotte, Greensboro, Asheville.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just going to go grab some last-minute snacks here before they decide to close.

TODD: Traffic brought to a standstill in some places. Trucks side slipping, cars needing a push. Even emergency vehicles got stuck. There were fatalities in North Carolina from accidents on I-95.

Then the storm barreled north. Officials in Washington, Maryland and Virginia are still pleading with people tonight to stay off the roads.

BOWSER: We want people to stay inside.

TODD: Snowplow and salt truck operators are hoping for that, too.

(on camera): If there are more people on the roads, how does that make it tougher for you?

HAROLD HOLMES, VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: Actually, makes it very unsafe for the public, because what happens is if we go into a slide dealing with the ice, then we have lives at stake. So we're asking the public to please get off the roads. Let us do our job safe, and they can return once we finish.

TODD: D.C. officials deployed the National Guard and told all city residents to be off the streets by 3 in the afternoon. Even with 2,500 personnel and 13,000 pieces of equipment to deploy, Virginia state officials say they're concerned about northern Virginia, known for congested roadways and hard-to-reach subdivisions. Officials up the East Coast warning it will only get worse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: While it will begin a light, fluffy mixture, it will become heavy and wet snow at times.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And as the conditions here get worse in Arlington and points south and north of here, this is what we're looking at. As we get into the evening hours, Wolf, conditions on the roads here freezing over. There's a sheen of snow and a little bit of slush and ice going to form over here in the evening hours.

What we're told is, even when the snowstorm stops, overnight Saturday into Sunday, we're being told by auto experts, people at AAA and the National Weather Service people should not venture out into this, even when it stops, thinking that the roads are going to be clear. They are not going to be clear. It could take up to 48 hours after this snowstorm stops for the roads to be clear. That means the Monday morning commute, Wolf, is not going to be pretty.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Brian, stand by. We're going to get back to you.

I want to get the latest now on where the storm is hitting and where it's headed. Our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Jennifer, this storm clearly living up to all the expectations.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. And one thing you have to remember, Brian touched on it's a really good point. This is a slow mover. A lot of times we think of these storms, they move quickly. This one is going to last quite a while.

In the D.C. area alone, we could see consistent snowfall for up to 36 hours. And we're talking at sometimes two to three inches per hour. So this is a serious storm.

Look at the blizzard warnings, anywhere from D.C., Baltimore, basically all up and down the 95 corridor. It does include Philadelphia and New York. D.C. started snowing right around 1 p.m. this afternoon. We are still seeing the snow come down as we speak. And it's continuing to inch up to the north. Philadelphia, you're right on the fringes.

So D.C., do expect those heavy bands to really start to pick up especially around the 10 p.m. hour tonight. Around midnight, be listening; you could hear thunder snow during the overnight hours.

And then we are going to see it creep up into the New York City area around 10 p.m. tonight. This is Saturday around 8 p.m.. And you can see the snow still around the D.C. area, all over Jersey, New York City included in that, as well. And then, as it moves up to the northeast around 6 p.m. Saturday, still snowing in D.C. Doesn't clear out until late Saturday night into early Sunday morning.

New York City, you could still see some lingering snow showers Sunday morning around 6 a.m.

Let me show you one other aspect to this storm. The winds. It is going to be very windy. We're going to see 30- to 40-mile-per-hour sustained winds, gusts up to 60 miles per hour or more. What that's going to do make visibility for one close to zero. That's what's going to spark those blizzard conditions. And we're also going to see major beach erosion as well as coastal flooding. New Jersey could see the worst flooding they've seen since Sandy.

And so this is a serious situation. And that's why we talk about don't get out on the roads. We're also going to see a couple power outages because of that. A lot of beautiful trees in the D.C. area. We could see power outages because of the winds and also the very heavy wet snow.

Talking about snowfall totals lastly, want to show you this graphic. D.C., you're in the 24- to 36-inch range, that bullseye just to the west of the city. I think east of the 95 corridor you'll see about two feet, two and a half feet. We could see higher amounts west of 95.

And look at that purple bullseye right there. Charlottesville, 36 inches or more. New York City, I think that's going to be the biggest question, because depending on exactly the track of this storm and how fast it moves offshore, you could get around 8 to 10 inches.

Some areas could get a little higher, some a little lower, Wolf. A lot of questions still to be answered, but we are in this for the long haul. We're in it now, and it is going to be lasting for the next 24 to 36 hours.

BLITZER: Jennifer, you're staying with us throughout the night for complete updates on the forecast. Stand by for a moment. I want to go to the Washington, D.C. mayor, Muriel Bowser. She's holding a news conference right now. Let's listen in.

MURIEL BOWERS, WASHINGTON, D.C., MAYOR: ... not parked in a snow emergency route. If you are not parked in a snow emergency route, you will be ticketed and towed. It is critical that we keep our main routes open.

And as I said and I will repeat again, we want our residents to stay in place during the duration of the storm. We don't want anybody driving during a blizzard. It's dangerous to do so. And it also can prevent our first responders and our road crews for making the roads safe when this storm passes.

I want to turn to Director Geldart now who will talk more specifically about operations. And he will also direct your questions.

CHRIS GELDART: Thank you, Madam Mayor. My name is Chris Geldart. I'm the director of D.C.'s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency to give an update where we are right now.

As everybody knows and the mayor just covered, the snow has started in the district. We are looking at what the storm has done and continues to do on this track to here to keep up-to-date and ensure that we have the appropriate resources moving in the right direction.

We have been, over the last several days, reaching out to jurisdictions and states to ask for assistance with all sorts of manner of things to include snow removal equipment as well as support for our human service areas. Right now we're watching the storm like you are to see what we're going to get and where we're going to end up with this.

We want to reiterate again to folks just as the mayor just has, this is a dangerous storm. There are way too many people out on the roads now. And we need to make sure folks are getting where they need to be. We asked folks to be off the road and where they're going to be for this storm at 3 a.m.. We're past that. If you're not where you need to be, please get there. It is just going to get worse. And it's going to get worse fast.

The snow is going to come in. You can see the initial bans that we had. We already have a lot of accumulating snow. And we're starting to get accumulating snow on the roads. So, again, this is a dangerous storm. We're asking folks to make sure you are where you need to be now. That's all I have. We'll take questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How would you rate both the government's response and the public's? Sounds like the mayor is a little frustrated people are still out on the roads right now. How would you rate just -- how you guys are keeping up with it and how the public is adhering to your warnings?

GELDART: I think as far as the government's perspective, we had preparations ongoing up until now. It looks as where we stand today the preparation we put in place are holding. They're what we need to do.

We're going to continue to watch the storm and continue to ensure that we're tracking all things we need to. We're going to be plowing continuously throughout the event to make sure that we can get our emergency crews where they need to get to and make sure that we're getting roads, the snow off the roads as we can.

And I think that's in place where we need it to be. As far as response from the public, we're encouraging and urging, again, everybody to get off the roads. And to be where they need to be. As I said on the outset, this is a dangerous storm. And it's coming fast. And if folks haven't realized it now, you all I'm sure realized it coming here. Conditions deteriorating quickly. We need folks to get where they need to be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you guys learn anything from Wednesday night's drama during rush hour that's affecting how you're handling tonight, and again sort of reinforcing getting people off the roads?

GELDART: Sure. I think the mayor addressed this earlier today. You're talking about two totally different events. You're talking about what was supposed to be a half inch of snow that became almost two inches of snow. The pretreating that we needed to do for that and the timeframes we needed to do it were not in place how we needed to.

This is a different event. We treated 100 percent of our roads before this storm came in. We've done that. We're now at the point of where that pretreating is not going to be able to sustain with the amount of snow and the time lengths that the snow is coming in. We knew that, which is why we're going to plowing now. Really talking about two different types of storms. So I don't think

you can compare the response we had earlier in the week to what we're doing for this one.

Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were complaining about groups having -- and things like that. Is your advice being heeded?

[17:15:00] GELDART: I believe that the recommendations that we gave to folks, the Right for Life March happened, and they were able to hold their event well. We have many cancellations and events that folks had scheduled for tonight and tomorrow. So I think that folks are really understanding that this is a severe storm. And very dangerous. And I think that we've gotten where we need to with that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm hearing something about streetcars practicing up and down Eighth Street. Is that correct, Mayor? Are they continuing their practicing runs?

BOWSER: Well, I think -- the director of DDOT, why don't we have a public transportation update including streetcar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The simulated service for streetcar has been suspended. So streetcars were operating today, but as the hazardous conditions moved in to the area they suspended service just like the bus service did at 5 p.m.. So when you simulate service, you actually, you know, simulate the operational plan that you would have in place.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue to monitor the news conference. Clearly, Washington, D.C., this entire area taking a bullseye hit from this monster storm. The nation's capital right now is all but shut down.

Washington's mayor, as you heard, is calling it a life or death situation.

Let's go to CNN's Chris Frates.

Chris, the area has been crippled by this initial dusting of snow the other day. This is a lot bigger. That was what barely an inch. Now they're getting ready for maybe 30 inches or more. Here's the question: Are they ready for the big one?

CHRIS FRATES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, they've spent the last couple days making that case, Wolf. Muriel Bowser a few days ago saying that they're going to treat this storm much differently than they did a few days ago.

And officials shut down the government. The federal government was also shut down at 12 p.m. Schools didn't open today. Kids got their first snow day before a flake even hit the ground. And that was largely to try to keep people off of these roads.

And if you look behind me here, this is 14th Street. It's a major thoroughfare in Washington, D.C. And at 5 p.m. on any other weekday it would be packed. And we're not seeing much traffic here, so people seem to be heeding that call so that the trucks can get on the road. And we spent some time in northeast Washington at what they call a salt dome earlier today. And they were loading big trucks full of salt.

And I want to give you some numbers to give you a sense of the scope that they're doing here. They have 200 plows out on the road. 150 dump trucks. 50 front end loaders. And their salt domes across the city are filled. Thirty-nine thousand tons, that's tons of salt that they're ready to put down on these roads to try to get ahead of the problems.

A state of emergency here in D.C., Virginia and Maryland. That allows federal help to come in. The National Guard is on call if they need any help. And officials here are trying to warn everybody stay off the road. I think we're seeing that here, Wolf. And we heard the mayor make the point that it's a life or death situation.

But earlier in the day her emergency management director, who we also saw in that press conference just a second ago, said that there will be fatalities in this storm. And he was much stronger than the mayor there. So I think people really need to stay off the roads as suggested. And we're seeing that as this snow piles up. They're saying, "Look, don't come out with your sleds. Don't come out with your cross-country skis. Batten down the hatches and don't come out until Sunday where we are able to start to clean this thing up and figure out the damage that's done.

One other key factor, Wolf, we heard from an official who said they're expecting power outages. Fifty-mile-an-hour winds, that's going to take down trees. Those trees are going to fall onto the power lines. This official said, if at the end of this storm there are only, only 25,000 people out of power, that will be a victory.

So clearly they're trying to manage expectations here that people will go dark. They will be cold. And they have heating centers set up around the city in case you are out of heat. You can go to one of those centers. But certainly they're telling people just hang in there, don't put your head up, wait for this thing to pass, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very, very dangerous storm. And there are going to be lots and lots unfortunately of power outages, very worried about senior citizens out there, as well.

We're going to have much more. Chris Frates, stand by. Much more OF THE breaking news coming up. This is a monster storm. It's powering its way up the East Coast right now. New information is coming in on how hard it will hit the East Coast of the United States, New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Baltimore. I'll speak with the mayor of Baltimore. That's coming up right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following huge breaking news. A very dangerous storm hitting about 85 million Americans right now. We're showing you these live video traffic cameras coming in from Virginia right now. Virginia being hit very, very hard. Maryland, Pennsylvania, all the way up to New York City and beyond. At least 29 million people are expecting blizzard conditions in their immediate area starting tonight. And that includes Baltimore.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is on the scene for us. What's it like now, Miguel?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think it's safe to say, Wolf, blizzard Baltimore is on right now. This has transformed this area of the Inner Harbor. You can see some of the hail and hardy, couple of runners are still out here. They'll need snow shoes in 24 hours from now.

Snow coming down as much as two inches per hour. They are expecting perhaps as much as 24 inches in Baltimore itself. Across the state 30 inches, perhaps more.

They're warning about winds, as well, 25- to 35-mile-per-hour winds. Gusts up to 60 miles per hour.

One of the biggest concerns that they have is the weight of the snow. They're saying it's going to be a very wet snow. I can tell you right now it looks more powdery, not quite champagne powder like you'd see out west. but it's a little bit powdery. That heavy snow, though, will weight down trees, weight down power lines and weight down roofs. That's what they are most concerned with.

They want the cars off the streets. The state has some 2,700 pieces of equipment to keep the big roads clear. They have 365,000 tons of salt to try to keep those big roads clear. But it is those smaller roads that they're worried about, the fire department here in town saying keep those cars off the road because if there is a fire, getting to that fire is going to be very difficult for them.

So all agencies here in Baltimore on alert. And the concerns amongst officials over the last several hours has gotten more serious as the weather forecast for what's happening in Baltimore has gone from bad to worse, Wolf.

BLITZER: Miguel Marquez, thanks very much.

I want to bring in the mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Mayor, thanks very much for joining us. What are you expecting in your city?

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE, MAYOR OF BALTIMORE (via phone): We are expecting a blizzard of Snowmageddon proportions, but we're also expecting to be prepared. We have more equipment than we've ever had in preparation for a snow before a blizzard. We have salt. We have our emergency responders prepositioned. And I'm feeling confident that we are ready. And we've also been through this before.

BLITZER: Do you have National Guard, military personnel on active duty now to help out?

RAWLINGS-BLAKE: They're certainly a part of our emergency operations. And they are on the ready, as well.

BLITZER: What is your biggest concern? Because I'm very concerned about the elderly, for example. What if you lose power and they're expecting a lot of homes to start losing power very quickly because the snow is going to get heavier and heavier and trees are about to go down?

Well, you know, this is charm city, and we check on our elderly. We have a system already set up where we're able to call in to elderly residents to make sure that they're okay. We also encourage people all the time to check on their elderly neighbors as well as the disabled.

So I'm very hopeful that we're going to continue that tradition of being very neighborly and checking on one another.

But we have to -- we're on guard. And we made it through Snowmageddon without any deaths related to the storm. We were able to get to every call that we had that was made, emergency call. And we anticipate being able to do that, as well, as long as people cooperate and stay off the roads.

BLITZER: Here in Washington, D.C., the mayor and other officials are saying -- telling people stay off the roads as much as possible. They want everyone off the roads. Are you doing the same thing in Baltimore?

RAWLINGS-BLAKE: Absolutely. We're encouraging people to stay off the roads. We sent home our city employees early and encourage others to do the same.

Unless you absolutely have to be on the road, we're asking for cars, for people to stay indoors. We want to keep everyone safe. And we want to be able to respond to every emergency. And we can't do that if people just leave their cars in the road.

BLITZER: What about the homeless, Mayor, who may be still stuck on some sidewalk, what are you doing about that?

RAWLINGS-BLAKE: We have been doing aggressive outreach with our homeless population. We've made sure that we've connected with them. Our outreach workers, we have many of them placed. We also have shelter space available, as well as hotel rooms available if we need them.

BLITZER: When is the heaviest snow expected?

RAWLINGS-BLAKE: The heaviest snow is expected to be consistently between this evening and not going to end, it's not going to let up at all until tomorrow evening. So we are expecting a big weather event. And we're also, you know, expecting to be prepared for it.

BLITZER: This is -- they say this is a snowstorm of historic proportions here in Washington they say, maybe worse than 1922, the so-called Knickerbocker storm. Is that what you're bracing for just a bit up north in Baltimore? RAWLINGS-BLAKE: Definitely we pray for the best. We pray for the

best, prepare for the worst. And, you know, we think it -- we think it could rival the snowstorm that we had in 2010, Snowmageddon. We hope it's not worse, but as whatever Mother Nature sends us, you know, we're tough here. And we're prepared.

BLITZER: Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore. Mayor, good luck to you. Good luck to all our friends in Baltimore.

RAWLINGS-BLAKE: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you. We're continuing to follow the breaking news. Much more coming up. We'll check in with what's going on in New York City. Standing by for a news conference from the mayor. I'll speak with the governor of New York, as well, Jennifer Gray. She's looking at the forecast. She's here with us in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll get the latest forecast from Jennifer right after this quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following the breaking news. A crippling winter storm gathering strength, affecting about 85 million Americans in the eastern parts of the United States.

These are live pictures coming in 395 in Virginia just outside Washington, D.C. It's pretty scary driving on the roads right now even on these interstates. They're trying to clear them, but the snow is coming down. They're probably going to continue for about at least 24 hours, if not more.

Jennifer Gray is here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Jennifer, the forecast you get new information all the time that's coming in. And it looks like it's going from bad to worse.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it's constantly updating. We're still on track to have one of the largest snowfall that D.C. has ever seen. And we could see higher amounts as you move up to the north as well.

[17:35:01] And I want to remind everybody that just because it's snowing hard doesn't make it a blizzard. Blizzard has certain criteria. The winds have to be at least 35 miles per hour and visibility less than a quarter of a mile. That has to last for three hours or more. So we're not quite in the blizzard conditions, but we do have those blizzard warnings in effect including the D.C. area, Baltimore, Philly, as well as New York.

And here's the radar right now. You can see the very heavy snow pulling into D.C. It is right on the fringes of Philadelphia. New York City, you have a couple more hours before you start to see the snow there. And in some of these darker bands you can see coming up into the D.C. area, the next couple of hours we do have the possibility for thunder snow.

You could see lightning out there and hear the thunder. It's going to sound a little bit different than it does during thunderstorms. It's going to be the slower rumble. But you could hear thunder snow during the overnight hours. And we are talking two to three feet of snow across the D.C. area. And we're also talking about the same amounts around Baltimore, not going to be quite as high as we get up into Philadelphia, but we are expected to see possibly 18 inches of snow or higher amounts. New York City possibly eight to 10.

Here is that snowfall graphic where you can see exactly how much we are forecasting. That purple bull's eye just to the west of D.C. You can see those areas in Virginia and just to the -- in eastern portions of West Virginia you can see that's the highest amounts. D.C., we could see 24 to 36 inches of snow. It is going to be epic. We are talking about worst snowfall possibly than the 1922 storm.

Also, the winds, we're talking about gusts up to 65, 70 miles per hour. We could see flooding worse than we saw in Sandy around New Jersey. We are talking about beach erosion, coastal flooding, winds will be sustained 35 to 40 miles per hour during the height of this storm, which we are expecting to be around Saturday 8:00. And so do be on the lookout for that.

This is like we've mentioned, Wolf, going to be a slow mover. So this is going to last for the next 24 to 36 hours at least.

BLITZER: Jennifer, the phrase "thunder snow," explain precisely the definition of thunder snow.

GRAY: Well, just like you get in a very heavy downpour, you may lightning with thunder. During those bands of very, very heavy snow we also can get the same phenomenon. So we are going to possibly get the lightning, we're going to hear the thunder. It's going to sound a little different, as I mentioned. It's going to be a slower rumble, but we could definitely get thunder snow in the D.C. area, even maybe in the Baltimore area and points to the north.

BLITZER: And this snow, right now it's not necessarily all that thick, but it's going to come down very, very thick. And that's going to cause a lot of impact on trees and power outages.

GRAY: Absolutely. You know, and D.C. is just now getting into it. And people are seeing the snow now, no, it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better. We're talking about 10:00 tonight, midnight, during the overnight hours that thick, heavy snow is going to cling to the tree branches, the power lines. It's a very wet snow. And not to mention the winds on top of that when we get the winds later tonight at about 35, 40-mile-per-hour sustained winds and you're going to see gusts possibly 55, 60 miles per hour or more, that is going to be more than enough to take down some of the trees, power lines and so we're going to be worried about that as we get into the morning hours.

BLITZER: And Jennifer, stand by. I'm going to get back to you. I want to check in on what's going on in New York City because it looks worse than originally expected. But there is a state of emergency we're now told. It is in effect in Virginia.

CNN's Nick Valencia is joining us. He's with crews from the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Nick, what's happening where you are?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the cold has been a concern all day long, Wolf. And that's become even a more -- even more of a major concern just in the last hour or so. If you want to pan up there, Jeff, and show the viewers what we're talking about. That wind steady flow exactly what Jennifer was speaking about in this area of the storm. Of course it's all about the snow. And we'll show you just how much has accumulated. Say about two inches of snow so far. And this salt right here is what the crews out on the roads are using to treat those roads, make sure that you're safe out there on those Fairfax interstates.

Let's bring in Steve Shannon, he is with the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Steve, you're in charge of all those fleets, the thousands of trucks that are out there on the roads right now. How are you guys doing?

STEVE SHANNON, VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: Everybody is holding up. I'm sure they're doing well. I mean, we really just started. And we've got several days of this so they're doing well.

VALENCIA: You spent the past couple of hours with us. We actually were right on the edge of Interstate 66. How did the roads look to you when we were out there just an hour or so ago?

SHANNON: I was pleased with what I saw. And I'm even more pleased with the fact that there's not a lot of traffic out there. That's important. And I think people are heeding the warning and staying off. This is a dangerous storm.

VALENCIA: We know the emergency briefing happened just a little while ago at 5:00 p.m. Dozens of accidents, Virginia State Police saying over 500 accidents. How concerned are you that there's going to be even more going forward?

SHANNON: Well, hopefully there won't be because that's -- most of that happened during our earlier rush hour and all. But hopefully there'll be a lot fewer. But again, people need to stay home and stay off the roads. It is dangerous.

[17:40:02] VALENCIA: And you guys have been doing a lot to prepare. Thank you so much, Steve. We really appreciate your work.

They've been starting this preparation back in June for a storm system like this. Over the course of the last 18 hours, Wolf, those 4,000 pieces of equipment, that heavy equipment, snowplows have hit the roads of Fairfax and throughout Virginia. Of course this is going to last all throughout the weekend. Three to six inches of snow per hour at the height.

I was speaking to a spokeswoman here for the Virginia Department of Transportation. They were saying that they were being advised by the National Weather Service that there could be up to 40 inches of snow between now and early Sunday. So this storm system is really all it seems to be, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And a lot of people are going to lose power, too, unfortunately. That's going to cause a lot more problems.

Nick, thank you very much.

We'll take a quick break. Much more on the breaking news. This monster storm hitting the East Coast right now. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:45:33] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, a very dangerous winter storm affecting 85 million Americans here on the East Coast.

CNN's Brian Todd is out on the roads. He's around Washington, D.C.

Brian, what are you seeing now where you are?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, conditions here getting much worse as we progress into the evening. The traffic is actually thinned out, but we just saw someone spinout in front of us.

We're going to switch to our dashcam at the front. I'm going to get out. I'm not sure if our photo journalist can, too. He's going to be able to get out on his side. It may be a little dangerous for him over there, but I can get out on mine and we can switch to our dashcam.

This person just did a 180 and is now facing the opposite direction. And someone has just come to her aid right here. But the conditions as you can see are getting much worse. Some people who are in SUVs and other heavy vehicles seem to be getting a little overconfident thinking they can go faster than they can go, but the slush has really built up on this highway right now. And this person just spun out.

Let me just see if she can talk to us briefly for a second.

Ma'am, are you all right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I'm OK.

TODD: Can you tell us what happened?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know -- I don't understand what happened. I was driving straight and then the car just spun around. I tried to get over and the car just spun, just completely spun.

TODD: Were you on the right side or near the center?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where that van is, so far lane. The car just spun.

TODD: OK. Are you going to be able to get off the road soon, do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that's my boyfriend. He's just going to turn around, I'm going to follow him the whole way.

TODD: All right. Well. good luck tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

TODD: Wolf, we have a Virginia state trooper that's just pulled over to try to help these people. This is her friend who just got in her car to try to turn it around. And this is just a microcosm of what people are going to be going through tonight, Wolf. Things are getting much worse.

Visibility I can tell you is almost nil out here. It's going to get worse as the night progresses, but right now this is what we're looking at along 395 South in Virginia.

BLITZER: Well, fortunately the woman is unhurt. Her car did spin around. Hopefully she'll be able to get going pretty soon. We see that Virginia state trooper there now on the scene. We see that car backing up. Let's see if they can straighten it out. It's very dangerous on these interstates right now.

Brian, I want you to be careful on the sides over there as well. Yes, they're turning it around. Fortunately I think that car's going to be OK. The woman's going to be OK. They're going to continue to go on their road.

Let's take another quick break. Much more on the breaking news when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:52:21] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, that dangerous winter storm now affecting 85 million people in the eastern United States. Want to quickly go back to Brian Todd, he's out on the roads not far away from Washington.

Brian, we just saw that accident. That woman's car spun around. You had a chance to speak to the state trooper, is that right?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. The lady was able to get out. Her track marks are right there. But I'm with the Trooper Chris (INAUDIBLE) who came to help her.

Chris, tell me what you're most worried about right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People just driving too fast for road conditions, being out here when they don't need to be.

TODD: And what are some of the mistakes people make? And this lady just did a 180. Maybe going too fast?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Too fast, being a little too over confident for their driving ability and their vehicle ability.

TODD: All right. Chris, thanks very much. Chris says that this is pretty much the most dangerous part of his job

when he's got to pull over and help people like this in these kind of conditions when people are still going too fast for these conditions out here, Wolf. It's getting worse. Visibility is getting worse. We're going to get on the road and see if we can find some other situations like this but very treacherous out here right now.

BLITZER: The concern is that a lot of people especially in the Washington, D.C. area, in Virginia, Maryland, that they are not used to a monster storm like this, Brian. They are not necessarily used to driving in the ice and the snow and with heavy winds about to develop, as well, they got to get those people off the roads. What are the authorities doing to get people off the roads?

TODD: Well, they are basically putting the word out on social media and in the standard media to get people off the roads, and you're right, and especially in the Washington area, Wolf, I had a traffic reporter tell me yesterday that a lot of drivers in this area are from elsewhere. They are not used to driving in these conditions, and they don't make good decisions behind the wheel when they do encounter these conditions.

To give you an idea about the broader region and what the warnings are, the Tennessee State Highway Patrol just tweeted out, quote, "We are desperately asking people to stay off the road." They used the words desperately asking. You don't see that very often from a state patrol. But that's what we're up against in the Mid-Atlantic region, Wolf.

BLITZER: Looks like a lot of cars on that interstate where you are, Brian. I know there'd be a lot more if this were a regular day, but still plenty of people driving around.

TODD: A lot of people here, Wolf. My team and I are frankly very surprise at the volume of cars still out here.

Now I will say that it has thinned out since we first started on the road this afternoon. But still you can see -- look at all the traffic coming from south to north here on 95. For the state patrols still too many people out on the road, Wolf.

BLITZER: Be careful on the sides over there, Brian. A lot of people are texting me, they are tweeting, have Brian Todd get off the side, they're worried about you. So be careful.

[17:55:04] I know you're going to get in your vehicle right now and more ahead. So just continue. We'll check back with you, Brian. Thanks very much.

Coming up, we're going to have more on the breaking news. We have new information on this monster storm impacting as I say 85 million Americans creating emergencies through much of the eastern third of the United States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, the blizzard of 2016 potentially one of the biggest storms on record bringing brutal winter weather to one-third of the United States. States of emergency declared up and down the East Coast with residents of the nation's capital being told there are life-and-death implications.