NASHVILLE, Tenn. —A rare white Christmas in parts of the South was complicating life for some travelers as airlines canceled hundreds of flights, while snow was predicted for the nation's capital and travel authorities warned of potentially dangerous roads.
The National Weather Service said the storm could bring 6 to 10 inches of snow to the Washington region, beginning today. The Weather Service was also forecasting possible snow today for the New York and Boston areas, with overnight temperatures in the 20s and wind gusts up to 30 mph.
The Carolinas got their first white Christmas in decades as snow began falling Saturday morning in Asheville, N.C., spread to Raleigh by noon and was forecast to stretch to the coast later in the day.
The National Weather Service issued winter storm warnings with forecasts calling for up to 6 inches of snow in central North Carolina with more in the mountains and less on the coast. In South Carolina, forecasts called for rain turning to snow after dark.
It's the first Christmas snow for the Carolinas since 1989, when a foot fell along the coast. For Columbia, it's the first significant Christmas snow since weather records were first kept in 1887.
In Asheville, the Weather Service said snow fell at the rate of about an inch an hour earlier in the day and mountain roads would be impassable for all but four-wheel drive vehicles. As much as 10 inches could fall by this morning, which would break the previous Christmas Day record of 5.4 inches set in 1969.
North Carolina Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton declared a state of emergency Saturday.
The North Carolina Highway Patrol said most of the roads in and around Asheville were either covered or partially covered with snow and ice as of 6 p.m. Jarema said troopers in the two dozen westernmost counties answered 350 calls between 12:01 a.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday. Most of them were wrecks.
In the South Carolina Upstate, rain mixed with a light snow in the late afternoon, but it wasn't causing immediate road problems, said Highway Patrol Lance Cpl. Bill Rhyne.
In Nashville, some travelers who expected a smooth trip on Christmas got a rude surprise.
"We were hoping this was going to be a good day to travel," said Heather Bansmer, 36, of Bellingham, Wash.
Bansmer and her husband, Shawn Breeding, 40, had planned to return home on separate flights after a visit to Breeding's family in Bowling Green, Ky. However, Breeding's flight through Atlanta got canceled.
Now the couple planned to spend much of Christmas Day in separate airports.
"A white Christmas is not so welcome," Breeding said, as the couple stood in the lobby of the Nashville airport with their luggage in a cart.
Brian Korty at the Weather Service in Camp Springs, Md., said travelers in the northern Mid-Atlantic region and New England may want to rethink travel plans today.
"They may see nearly impossible conditions to travel in," he said. "It would be a lot better for them to travel today than it would be tomorrow."
In Pensacola, Fla., Jena Passut faced a quandary. The 36-year-old magazine writer drove with her husband and two kids from Fairfax, Va., to visit relatives. Now she worried about how to get back home amid the snow.
"Should we leave on Christmas night? My kids are normally good travelers, but if it's going to take us twice as long, it's going to be hell," she said. "I like a white Christmas as much as anyone, but I don't want to drive in it."
In the Washington area, emergency management officials were urging residents to get ready for approaching snow.
D.C. transportation department spokeswoman Karyn LeBlanc said a few crews would be pre-treating roads Saturday night if necessary. About 200 pieces of equipment will be deployed today in anticipation of snow.
Washington's Metro system had placed crews on standby to remove snow from rail station entrances and platforms if necessary.
Residents in eastern Pennsylvania were bracing for 8 to 12 inches of snow for Philadelphia and its suburbs.
Forecasters also were predicting winds of 20 to 30 mph with gusts over 40 mph.
The snow storm blanketed sections of the Midwest and hampered motorists there on Christmas Eve, before dipping south late Friday. Winter weather advisories were in effect Saturday afternoon from western Tennessee to the Carolinas and from West Virginia to Alabama.
Delta Air Lines spokesman Kent Landers said 500 weather-related flight cancellations were planned for Saturday nationwide.
The Nashville area had an inch or so of snow overnight, and roads appeared to be clear. There was also snow in northern Alabama.