Virginia's General Assembly canceled Friday's floor sessions and committee meetings, the first time anyone could remember that the threat of snow had sent the whole legislature home. Officials urged people to stock up on supplies Thursday night and warned of a tough evening commute Friday.
Those who can should work from home, said Joan Morris, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation.
"This is not a good mix," Morris said. "Heavy, wet snow with gusting winds is going to make it a very tough storm for us. I expect visibility will be very poor in spots, and we'll have to deal with drifting snow."
The Coast Guard warned mariners from Virginia to New York that the storm could produce gale-force winds and high seas.
Flood watches were posted from southern Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle and much of Georgia into Friday evening.
The National Weather Service said the rain would turn to snow as the storm moves up the Atlantic seaboard. It issued a warning stretching from Baltimore to northern Virginia and parts of West Virginia.
Total accumulations of 16 inches to 24 inches are expected. The Richmond area, which averages about a foot of snow a season, was still shoveling out from a storm last weekend that left nearly that much. Many area schools had just reopened Thursday.
The weather service warns that the mix of heavy snow and strong winds would make travel Friday night "very hazardous or nearly impossible."
Virginia Del. Tim Hugo was hurrying out of a Thursday afternoon committee meeting so he could head home to Fairfax County, a Washington suburb that's supposed to get hit.
"I'm heading out of here now because I don't want my wife stranded at home with 2 feet of snow in the drive," he said.
State officials were deploying thousands of trucks and employees and had hundreds of thousands of tons of salt at the ready.
Southwest Airlines canceled Friday afternoon flights at Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington airports. Amtrak canceled most trains heading south from Washington, D.C.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has been in office less than a month, declared his second snow emergency, authorizing state agencies to assist local governments. The assistance includes deploying National Guard soldiers and emergency response teams.
A mid-December storm brought about 20 inches in many areas. Between that and several smaller snowfalls, the region's road crews have had plenty of practice in the past two months.
Maryland highway officials said they have spent about $50 million so far clearing and treating roads this winter. That's almost twice the $26 million that had been budgeted for the effort.
The Virginia Department of Transportation said it already spent the $79 million budgeted for statewide snow removal and was tapping into emergency maintenance funds. Once that $25 million reserve is exhausted, the department said it will have to dip into other programs to cover its costs.