CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Northeast Faces Blizzard Emergency; Almost 3,000 Flights Already Cancelled; Storm Watch in New Hampshire; President Obama Says Good-bye to Panetta

Aired February 8, 2013 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, a potentially record-breaking blizzard hammering the northeast United State triggering states of emergency. It's also creating a travel nightmare. Thousands of flights have been canceled. The effects are rippling across the country.

Plus, the massive manhunt for a former police officer suspected in three murders. We have exclusive new video.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Snow is falling across the northeast right now. This is only the beginning of what could be a blizzard for the record books. Massachusetts has declared a state of emergency and a travel ban on roads and highways went into effect just over an hour ago. A similar ban is now in place Rhode Island.

Governor Lincoln Chafee announcing it here in the SITUATION ROOM just a little while ago, warning their cars and trucks should stay off the roads as of 5:00 p.m. eastern. That's now. Things are just as bad in Connecticut, also under a state of emergency imposing a travel ban in an effort to keep people off the roads and out of danger. In all, some 40 million people are in the path of this blizzard and many of them -- for many of them, it's going to be a very, very long night.

Let's go to Boston right now, which is going to be hit really hard. Jason Carroll is on the scene for us. Set the scene for us, Jason. What's the latest?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's been interesting to watch is that situation has continued to deteriorate from each passing hour. Right now, we've been experiencing a lot of high wind and even the condition as the snow has been changing. You can see right now it's that thick, sticky kind of snow, perfect for making a snowball but much later, Wolf, the condition of the snow is going to change.

It's going to become much more powdery. That powdery snow is going to make conditions much more dangerous as the wind kicks off. You've got the powdery snow blowing. It's going to make visibility very difficult conditions much worse. Right now, we're on a side street in South Boston. We saw a plow go down the street not too long ago, and that gives you an idea of just how much the city has really been at work.

We've seen plows and snow throughout the day heading into this neighborhood. And this is a secondary street. The main priority are the primary arteries running in and out of the city of Boston. Those will be plowed first. As you say, travel ban is in effect right now in the city of Boston. That means only emergency crews allowed out on the streets.

But that's certainly not keeping people off the streets right now in Boston. We ran across just before our live shot was about to get underway. This group here of young kids are out here with their sleds, Wolf, just wanting to take advantage of the conditions before things really get bad. Jack, you decided to come out and go for a last-minute slid rid?

UNIDENTIFIED KID: Yes. I was excited about the storm, and I figured there would be just too much snow tomorrow to get out.

CARROLL: To get out there. I see you brought Steven here with you and Bobby. Bobby, he's seven years old. Bobby, I'm sure you've never seen snow like this before.

UNIDENTIFIED KID: No.

CARROLL: No. This is a first for you. But Steven, you said you snow, what, it's been a couple of years, right?

UNIDENTIFIED KID: Yes, about two years.

CARROLL: Two years since you've seen snow like this.

UNIDENTIFIED KID: Yes.

CARROLL: Now, Wolf, they promise me they're going to get inside before conditions get too bad. So that is true, correct?

UNIDENTIFIED KID: Yes.

CARROLL: You will stay inside?

UNIDENTIFIED KID: Oh, definitely.

CARROLL: All right. So, that's very good to hear. But once again, Wolf, the city right now and the state of Massachusetts under a mandatory travel ban. That means only emergency vehicles allowed out on the street. Also, the National Guard has been called out as well. Some 1,000 members of the National Guard already out on the streets.

But during the teeth of the storm, the state will have access to some 4,000 members of the National Guard. We're going to be waiting out the storm throughout the night. Of course, bringing you the latest -- Wolf. BLITZER: We'll check back with you, Jason Carroll, in Boston. Let's go to New York right now. Alison Kosik is standing by. What's it like out there, Alison?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's certainly coming down at a pretty good clip. I notice the traffic here, actually, it's a Friday night here in New York City. It's usually half this (ph) Columbus Circle here. It's looking pretty desolate at this point. Lots of snow. Lots of heavy snow, too.

This is really the wet, heavy snow. It could really wind up weighing on power lines. It's a big concern for a lot of people not only here in New York City but also on Long Island. Here in New York City, though, city officials are going in overdrive, making sure they're out ahead of this storm. They've got plows at the ready to go out.

They've got 250,000 tons of salt ready to be spread along 6,000 miles. Not only here in New York City but in the four boroughs as well. New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is hoping that this time around, unlike in 2010, with the big monster blizzard that hit the city, that this time around, they are ahead of the storm and more prepared -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Alison, thanks very much. Let's check in with Chad Myers at the CNN severe Weather Center for a forecast. What's going to happen over the next few hours, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's getting harder. It's getting heavier. The snow is coming down now. The moisture is getting closer, so is the low to the coast. So, right along and anywhere from ice slip (ph) all the over to the Hamptons, you're changing over from the rain to some sleet, and eventually, you'll get to be all snow as the cold air wraps in behind.

We're seeing brighter whites here in the snow. The brighter the white, the heavier the snow is coming down. We still have at least five and even ten hours before the snow gets to be at the heaviest point. Very heavy snow right out here around parts of the Cape.

You're going to see that snow continue for much of the night and then all the way back and here to New York City, we had a lot of rain-snow mix for a while, but that rain-snow mix line is now moving south of the rockaways. So, a lot more snow involved. And, you know what, Wolf, I told you just, you know, a couple days ago, how I'm going to take two storms to make into one storm.

I'm going to try you this, because I think this is very interesting. There is the east coast of the United States. Right there. That's Maine. There's Nova Scotia out there. And there were two storms, one that was making rain for Georgia, another that was making snow for the Midwest. It's going to go back to it right now. And to show you where that snow was, that's one low, that's one low, and there's the East Coast of the United States.

Over the next few hours, this low is going to catch up to that one and it's going to make one low pressure center. That's how all of this is going to get so much bigger all at one time. That happened somewhere around midnight tonight. It is going to be one for the record books for sure for some people.

I could even see across parts of either Northern Rhode Island, Barnstable, all the way over into Connecticut, Northeastern Connecticut, somebody is going to pick up 36 to 40 inches of snow, but the issue is, if you get winds at 50 miles per hour, there might be an eight-foot drift. And then, right next to it, you can see the ground. May never be able to see how much snow is under there because the wind is going to blow so hard tonight.

BLITZER: And between the snow and the wind, there could be a lot of power outages as well and it's really cold out there. Several of the governors have said, Chad, this is their biggest fear.

MYERS: Yes. Twenty-three million people in this red-orange zone right through here. Twenty-three million people in a blizzard warning at this hour. And, you know, if it starts to go downhill and people start to get in trouble and power stars to go out, all of a sudden, again, just like Sandy, the power crews will be overwhelmed. You can't even get enough mutual aid to get those power lines back up. This could take some time to get everybody back on line.

BLITZER: And the other big issue is potentially the surge off the coast. We're talking about a lot of water potentially and some flooding?

MYERS: That's exactly right. What we have here is a low. It's not quite as deep as Sandy was, but it's big. I mean, this is a very low pressure center. You put a barometer out there, you would be all the way down on the side of your little barometer that you might have on your mantle.

And you have wind coming in this direction -- I'll make a different color -- wind coming in this direction here, pouring that water on to the shore all the way into Boston Harbor, on the Gloucester and all the way up into Maine. Three to five-foot surge and then four to ten- foot waves on top of that surge.

You get out there by Boston Harbor east of Logan, but you see that, those waves come over the shore, and they're dangerous, because they can actually go over you and take you back out to the ocean, sweep you away. So, don't go out there and look for those pretty pictures.

BLITZER: People forget how dangerous -- you point out -- this is dangerous. That blizzard in 1978 in New England, 100 people died in that blizzard. Some of them stranded in their vehicles.

MYERS: Yes. And you know, we talked to the mayor and we talked to the governor a little bit ago and he was really -- he was impressed at the amount of time that this forecast was ahead of schedule. Three to five days ahead of schedule where that storm back in 1978 came up so quickly, the storm came down and the snow came down so quickly people were stuck on roads that they could move and snow snowed around and they died in their cars from exposure. At least we know this is happening. We've known it for days. And it seems to me like these governors and mayors, they have it under control. I think people are pretty much off the streets.

BLITZER: Hope so, because it is dangerous. Chad, we'll check back with you. And to our viewers, to get all the latest storm tracking or to send us your weather-related iReports, please be sure to click on to CNN.com/weather

Thousands of flights already canceled because of the blizzard and the effects are rippling through airports across the United States.

Plus, we'll have the latest on the manhunt for a former police officer suspected of three murders. We have exclusive new video of his police training.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To give you an idea of just how massive this storm bearing down on the northeast is right now, take a look at this. It's an extraordinary satellite image captured from space. NASA took the picture just as the two low pressure systems were colliding into one giant force over the region.

Chad Myers, once again, is joining us. Chad, would you take a look at this? Can we call it a nor'easter? I assume we can.

MYERS: Yes, it is a nor'easter. What i see in that picture is that the cold air was tardy for a perfect storm. It was delayed. We talk about how the receiver and the quarterback had to throw the ball and the receiver had to be under the ball by the time it got there. Well, the cold air did not get to New York City in time to make a great snowstorm. That's great news, because you got that muck earlier.

It was rain, snow, grapple. It was kind of -- just kind of a big layer of nothing for a while. And that would have been already on the ground in New York City, easily six inches of snow. Because there was rain mixed in, that snow didn't get to accumulate. It kind of got washed down into the gutters. There's only one bad part about that.

By tonight, temperatures are going to be down to 20. So, that layer of slush is going to completely freeze up. Then, you're going to get six to ten inches of snow on top of that slush. And you're going to try to walk or drive around on it and there's going to be a layer of ice under all of that snow in the city. Here's the city right now. There's the muck. It was raining for a while, rain/snow mix.

Now, that rain/snow line has pushed down to the south and it's getting colder in New York City and that blizzard warning is going to continue. It may not seem like a blizzard for a lot of people, but if you get down toward Manhattan and you start to funnel that wind down into those big cities, all of a sudden, those building, you're going to get wind tunnel effects there where the winds in the city could be 50 or 60, blowing down the avenues -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You see that roving CNN camera in that vehicle driving through the streets of Boston right now. There it is. We're going to be showing you that picture throughout. These are live pictures coming in from Boston right now. Our producer, Julian Cummings, is in that vehicle. We'll check back with him shortly.

Thousands of superstorm Sandy victims are bracing for the worst all over again. Mary Snow has been in Staten Island which is getting hit very, very hard. She's got more on this part of the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Snowstorms should be a time for Nick Camerada to make money fixing snow blowers, but his repair business was destroyed by Sandy and he's working out of a badly damaged home. He can't afford another setback.

NICK CAMERADA, SUPERSTORM SANDY VICTIM: As you could see, I got as far as I could trying to rebuild, you know, and I'm in week -- what are we in? To week 15? Fifteen weeks of living in hell. And you know, under these conditions, I couldn't bear another title surge or water coming into the house and causing any more problems than we already have. I mean, we've been through enough.

SNOW: We first met Camerada when Sandy ravaged the first floor of his home and he refused to leave with his family. The toll, more than physical. Camerada tells us he suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder. His biggest struggle right now, he says, his emotions.

How big of a setback do you think this storm is even if it doesn't do widespread damage, how big of a setback is it just on your psyche?

CAMERADA: Sorry. You know, you've got to just keep moving forward, you know, one step at a time. You know, you can't mess with Mother Nature. You don't know. It may point, you know -- at this point, I can weather any storm. There ain't no storm that I can't handle after this because you can't take anything more from me. So, whatever it is, it is. I'm destroyed. I'm destroyed.

SNOW: Not far away, Steve Chati comes to this tent. He comes for meals after he and his family were displaced. And he can't imagine anything more going wrong.

STEVE CHATI, SUPERSTORM SANDY VICTIM: To be honest with you, I'm becoming numb as far as any weather-related, you know, issues. We don't have anything to lose anymore. I mean, we lost everything. So, I have couldn't worry more about it. It's not going to help me with anything. So, I'm just trying to stay strong, and you know, hopefully, better days will come.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (on-camera): And Wolf, you hear that over and over, people just hoping that they will escape the brunt or any major damage from the storm. And one person after another just saying today, here we go again. They are just in disbelief that another major storm is at their doorstep -- Wolf. BLITZER: I hope they're going to be OK. Obviously, the last thing they need after what they've gone through as a result of superstorm Sandy. Thanks very much. Mary Snow at Staten Island.

Still ahead, the massive manhunt for a former police officer suspected in three murders. You're going to see some exclusive new video that someone who knows.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We'll have much more on the blizzard coverage coming up and it's also snowing in Southern California in the mountains there today as S.W.A.T. teams and snowcats are searching the resort area of Big Bear for the former police officer suspected of killing three people. Christopher Dorner's burned out truck was found in the area yesterday.

Officials say they'll keep searching there until they find him or confirm that he's left the mountains. Dorner was fired from the Los Angeles police force back in 2008. He's declared war on the LAPD saying he plans deadly revenge against officer and their families. Let's bring in CNN's Kyung Lah. She's on the scene for us. She has exclusive videotape of Dorner. Kyung, tell us about this videotape.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I can tell you is that we obtained it from a man who spent several months with Dorner at the police academy. He is not a police officer, but he was there following the class of 2005, the very same year that Dorner was a police cadet. Now, we are not showing this man's face.

We're altering his voice. We're also blurring the faces of the other cadets. Why? Because the man we interviewed is afraid that Dorner will see it and then go after his police friends. Here's a little of what he told us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you can see everybody is a beginner and, you know, probably never touched a gun in their life and you could just see this guy is (inaudible) look at the way he holds it. The gun doesn't even move. I mean, his arms don't shake. His head doesn't move. I mean, you could tell this guy has been holding guns for a long a time.

LAH: Is it frightening to you that LAPD is facing this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I mean, it's a challenge. I mean, this guy is beyond LAPD. This guy is military. This guy is like a wrecking ball.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAH: There is much more to my conversation with the man we spoke with. That's coming up on Erin Burnett "Outfront."

BLITZER: Pretty chilling stuff. How are the folks in Los Angeles, in the area reacting? Are they still obviously very, very worried? LAH: Very, very worried. And if you try to go to a police station anywhere in Los Angeles, you certainly feel it. You can feel that the officers are very, very worried. If you turn on the radio or drive anywhere in this city, you see pictures of this man. You also hear constant updates of where the search is going. Certainly, everyone in Southern California is paying attention to this story.

BLITZER: We'll continue to stay in close touch with you. Kyung Lah reporting from Los Angeles, thank you.

Hurricane force winds and a massive storm surge, they're threatening Cape Cod right now. We're going there live. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: States of emergency are now in effect across several northeastern states. And the coming hours will be the most critical as a powerful blizzard roars across the region that's home to 40 million people. Snow and wind are picking up from New York to Boston, and before it's all over, some areas may be buried under three feet of snow.

Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, they've all issued travel bans order in cars and trucks off the roads, anyone who decides to take a drive could go to jail. Let's go to Cape Cod right now. Ali Velshi is standing by. Ali, I see it coming down pretty hard over there. There's a lot of water and potential waves and surge flooding could be a big problem?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Yes. Let's take this back a little bit. Everybody knows about you being from Washington. You're from Buffalo. I grew up not far from you in Toronto. We're snow experts, right? This is a winter wonderland. We're used to seeing this kind of stuff. The issue here with this big, juicy, luscious snowflakes is velocity. Look how fast is this coming down.

Walk with me here. This is all the beach at Cape Cod. This is south. OK. I'm on the south side of Cape Cod where Dennis Port, Chatham on the east is over there. That's the right hand of the boot. This is where last night's high tide came in. This will be about four hours from now. If it were normal, high tide would come in here. The issue is right around 10 o'clock to midnight is when this thing gets bad.

So, there'll be some kind of a surge. There'll be what Chad Myers has been describing as a fire hose of snow coming in. And then, as Jason Carroll was describing from Boston, this is a heavy, wet snow.

So, you combine that heavy, wet snow that's accumulating at a rate of two to three inches of hour with trees and power lines and then that wind that comes in as that storm which is over there, gets as close as it's going to get around midnight, I guess according to Chad, you're going to have some problems.

You're going to have impassable roads. You're going to have downed trees. You're going to have people without power. We haven't seen a lot of it yet, because the mayors in the northeast and the governors have been telling people to stay home. In three states, they've told them, you can't even drive.

Now, in Cape Cod, probably about a quarter million people are living here all year round. They're getting worse east of here, but it's pretty bad. At this point, everybody is off the roads. In Massachusetts, you've got to be. Hopefully, people have stocked up and got their provisions. But you know, Wolf, I love snow like you do. This is a lot of snow.

BLITZER: It certainly is. And it's not just the snow that people have to worry about, it's the wind, which is a huge problem and folks don't necessarily appreciate --

VELSHI: Just picking up now. Yes, and it's just picking up now. So, you've got two things that are going to go on with the wind, particularly, with two weather systems. One is you've got a potential storm surge which is going to come in and create some coastal flooding all the way down through to New York, and in fact, as I've been watching CNN here, been interrupted by National Weather Service alerts to tell us that there's wind coming.

It's also pretty biting snow, and then, the wind that is going to topple those trees and those power lines because of the snow that's accumulated on top of them. So, wind is a big problem. It's already causing traffic accidents all over the place which is why they don't want cars on the road. So, it's beautiful. I love winter. These are hearty New Englanders, but the bottom line is, this one could be dangerous -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly could be. And we'll stay on top of it together with you.

Ali Velshi is joining us from Cape Cod.

Brian Todd is joining us now. He's over at Reagan National Airport here in Washington, D.C. Brian, there's enormous concern, a lot of flights, thousands already, have been canceled and I suspect it's only just the beginning.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is only the beginning, Wolf. We just got word from a lot of the airlines that just came out of their operational meetings for the afternoon. Latest figures we're being told 4500 plus flights being canceled throughout the country and this projects for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. So they're canceling them ahead of time in anticipation of the storm, of course.

We'll show you just down the terminal here at Reagan National. This is not necessarily lighter than normal traffic, passenger traffic for the terminal on a Friday evening. This is about normal. But a lot of people got word early that their flights were going to be canceled and the tarmac tells the story out here as well. Grounded planes sitting here. Some of these planes haven't moved for quite some time.

We're told that about 60 flights coming into Reagan National today, 80 flights going out have been canceled and the board tells everything here.

Look, if all the flights going to New York, JFK, New York LaGuardia, Newark, Boston, Logan, Toronto, all canceled.

Here's another illustration. And we'll back up the camera right here and walk over toward the U.S. Airways shuttle counter here. This is about the deadest place on the terminal. Not much activity here. This is the shuttle counter for U.S. Airways for the shuttle going to Boston to New York and Newark and those places.

These ladies here not much activity over the past couple of hours. We did catch up to a couple of people earlier today who had their flights canceled. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were planning on going to Buffalo to go up to Niagara Falls. They canceled the flight and since we're at the airport, we were trying to find a cheap flight to anywhere else basically since we're here anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is what it is. So now we're all in line to figure out where we go next and what we do. Because I don't need to be here for the next three days, for sure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: People taking a little bit of humor out of the situation but a big inconvenience for thousands of air travelers, of course. The good thing is, as we mentioned, a lot of them got word early today by calling, by checking the Internet, checking their smartphones, all that stuff, getting early word about flights being canceled.

Now what we did get insight into as well was the United Airlines command center, brand new facility just outside Chicago. This is where they just take control of all the cancellations. They manage everything. All the special response teams, the dispatch, everything in that airline.

We're going to show you that place next hour on THE SITUATION ROOM, Wolf, fascinating place that United is running out of Chicago. A lot of the airlines, their operational centers very, very busy right now.

BLITZER: Any indication, Brian, how much money the airlines are going to lose this weekend?

TODD: I spoke to an analyst about that earlier today, Wolf. Richard Aboulafia from the Teal Group. He said it's going to be in the tens of millions. No exact figure he can project, of course, because they don't really know that yet. But tens of millions of dollars they're going to be losing.

And one of the big problems is, is that a lot of the airports affected by this, are international hubs. You're talking New York JFK, Boston Logan, Newark. These -- they're going to be losing the international traffic as well. So they're going to be losing that kind of revenue. They're going to really take a hit this weekend -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, we'll -- we'll look forward to your report in the next hour as well.

Brian Todd over at Reagan National Airport.

It's known as the home of the world's worst weather. Up next we're going to take you live to the highest point in New England where they're bracing for a windchill, get this, 25 degrees below zero.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Mount Washington, New Hampshire -- not Washington, New Hampshire, I should say, isn't just the highest point in New England. It's also known as home of the world's worst weather. Right now they are bracing for the brunt of this storm and the windchills of 25 degrees below zero.

Joining us now via Skype from North Conway, New Hampshire, is weather observer Brian Fitzgerald with the Mount Washington Observatory.

Brian, thanks very much for joining us. You're inside right now. First of all, how bad is it outside?

BRIAN FITZGERALD, MOUNT WASHINGTON OBSERVATORY: Right now it's pretty chilly out there. It's actually negative 2 at the moment. Winds are pretty light for us. About 25 miles an hour. So combine those two factors, it's about negative 25 for windchill right now.

BLITZER: Has it gotten worst in the past few hours or has it stabilized?

FITZGERALD: We've seen some pretty consistent snowfall since actually last evening. We picked up about six inches of snow so far. But now we're starting to see some pretty heavy bands of snow starting to come on shore and head right towards us.

BLITZER: What's all of that equipment behind you, just out of curiosity?

FITZGERALD: Yes, we've got a lot of neat stuff going on behind us. A lot of nice visual stuff going on in terms of just this sign here is actual haze wind chart that's showing 24 hours worth of wind data, lots of other things. Thermograph showing temperature over time then digital barometers, the works, up here because -- there are a lot of variables that go into a lot of the weather observations that we take up here.

BLITZER: How much worse do you expect it to get at Mount Washington where you are? How much snow? How low of a temperature?

FITZGERALD: We're thinking about tomorrow about negative 5. That's just ambient air temperature. Windchills as low as negative 45. Winds are going to pick up along with that snowfall. So we're going to be seeing gusts up to 100, 110 miles an hour, which isn't too unusual for Mount Washington in the wintertime but with two feet and there's snow on the ground, that's going to be visibility of 20, 30 feet at best that time. So it's going to get pretty white out there.

BLITZER: In 1934 there was an incredible -- this is the highest ever in recorded history, 231 miles per hour the winds got up there, the surface wind speed. So what you're saying, it's not going to get anywhere near that but it's going to be pretty bad.

I assume everybody just stays inside, it's too dangerous to go outside?

FITZGERALD: Yes, you would think so. And against better judgment, we actually go outside every hour to take weather observations. That's part of what we've been doing up here for over 80 years now. So we'll go out not for a very long time, we probably can't afford to, then we scurry back inside once we get all of the information we need from outside. So just a few minutes.

BLITZER: And you -- relay that information to whom?

FITZGERALD: National Weather Service. But we also keep an eye on our own databases here as well and then we create forecasts specifically for the summit right here on Mount Washington since it sees a lot of foot traffic, both summer and winter here.

BLITZER: Brian Fitzgerald joining us from North Conway, New Hampshire. Be careful if you go outside. I assume you've got a warm coat and some hats and gloves. You're well protected, right?

FITZGERALD: Yes. Absolutely. We've got a sponsor at Eastern Mountain Sports so they've outfitted us head to toe because honestly we can't afford to go out there and have any skin showing when we have windchills as low as negative 45. I mean, that's -- that's some pretty nasty frostbite if you're not taking care of yourself.

BLITZER: Just be careful, Brian Fitzgerald, joining us from Mount Washington. As they say, home of maybe the worst is it in the country. World's worst weather, they like to say. They say it with pride.

Hey, Brian, thanks very much.

FITZGERALD: Hey, appreciate it, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's bring in our CNN producer Julian Cummings. He's driving through the streets of Boston right now.

And these are live pictures we're seeing, Julian. Tell us what is going on.

JULIAN CUMMINGS, CNN PRODUCER: Hi, Wolf, the snow is really picking up here in the last hour since we spoke. We're seeing road accumulation being very, very fast, plows are having trouble keeping up and -- but still we are seeing people walking around, enjoying the snow, taking photographs. But traffic is really, really slowed down.

BLITZER: Well, as of 4:00 p.m. Eastern, almost two hours ago, it was a crime to be driving if you weren't in an emergency vehicle, if you didn't have special permission like the news media, for example, has. So people are heeding that, aren't they?

CUMMINGS: Yes, for the most part. We are -- we are seeing the occasional car on the road and there are still a few delivery cars and taxis. But for the most part, it's lots of emergency vehicles and plows trying to keep up. But we did venture out a little bit farther from some of the downtown areas and we saw that they -- those roads are really bad. They are having a hard time. The snow is falling faster and the winds are starting to gust here as well.

BLITZER: So what's it like driving? Is it just icy? I assume you have a special vehicle.

CUMMINGS: We've got a very, very large four-wheel drive vehicle, having four-wheel low, heeding precautions, you know, driving very slowly with hazard lights on, too. You know, there are times when you just can't stop and we just let it go. You know, don't try anything too fancy. But it's definitely not recommended for driving. I wouldn't tell you when to go out on the roads and go anywhere.

BLITZER: And this is only the beginning, isn't it, Julian? They're saying the next few hours in Boston it's going to get a whole lot worse?

CUMMINGS: Yes, a whole lot worse. We're seeing that sideways snow starting to (INAUDIBLE) the lights a little bit. The wind picking up. But I think we're in for -- this is just the beginning. I think we're in for a lot more coming right now.

BLITZER: And you're going to continue staying on the streets of Boston for us. And we'll check back with you. Is that all right?

CUMMINGS: Yes. It's all right. We're going to stay out here as long as we can.

BLITZER: Julian Cummings, our producer who's driving through Boston right now. You're looking at those live pictures.

States of emergencies all across New England. Just ahead, by the way, in our next hour I'll speak with the mayor of Hartford, Connecticut where all cars and trucks also have been banned from the road.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Cape Cod right now, by the way, the -- it's getting really, really tough out there. This is the president of the United States saying good-bye to his Defense secretary. We're going to get back to Cape Cod in a moment.

The president used his farewell ceremony for outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to issue another dire warning about the potential impact of automatic spending cuts set to take effect just three weeks from now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no reason, no reason for that to happen, putting our fiscal house in order calls for a balanced approach, not massive, indiscriminate cuts that could have a severe impact on our military preparedness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's discuss what's going on with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, who's here in SITUATION ROOM. Tough talk from the president once again today. This is a huge issue.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And, you know, following on the talk earlier this week from the secretary of defense, the outgoing Secretary Defense Panetta, who said, look, this is not a game. This is reality. He said there's going to be furloughs at the Pentagon, the pay increases for the troops will not be as large as he would like, and then the president today added on to them, and said, look, this is going to affect seniors, food safety, the poor.

So what they are setting themselves up for is really this argument they're set to have and I think we're going to hear about it in the State of the Union next week, Wolf, over these automatic spending cuts that are due to take effect. The president is saying, we cannot let this occur and he's ready to clearly have that fight with Republicans on this.

BLITZER: Panetta leaving office with an extraordinary acknowledgement --

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: -- that the Defense Department, the CIA, the State Department, all of them recommended to the president that the U.S. should start arming, directly arming Syrian rebels but the president decided that was not necessarily a good idea. That's pretty extraordinary.

BORGER: It was extraordinary. He was asked about it at a congressional hearing. What's interesting to me as somebody who covers Washington, it's not that there is disagreement at certain points over policy between the secretary of Defense and the secretary of State and the president of the United States.

What's amazing, Wolf, is that we never knew about it before. So when you saw the president assisting Hillary Clinton in her good-bye tour and you saw a president who really was thanking her for not leaking. And what we also see in this is that foreign policy is really run from the White House and not from anywhere else.

This is a very White House centric national security team and I think that the president, of course, is the first among equals. But if you look at those people up on the screen, Wolf, it is the president of the United States who made that decision on Osama bin Laden, Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta wanted to arm the rebels, and it was the president who decided differently. So it's very much center data that -- out of that White House.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: I would believe further and point out it's the president of the United States --

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: An important decision like that who makes a decision over, you know, rejecting the advice, overruling the advice of some of his top national security officials. In the end it's up to him.

BORGER: Of course it's up to him. And what it also tells you, though, Wolf, is that modern presidents very often center their policy making inside the White House. And as the president now is making decisions about his Cabinet, and we talk about it, of course what really matters to him is who are the people next to him? And that Cabinets over the last decade or two, you have strong members of Cabinets, no doubt about it. But the policymaking, more and more centered, centered out of that Oval Office and out of the people who are in that small piece of real estate right around the president.

BLITZER: What's the latest? The president is saying good-bye to Leon Panetta. Chuck Hagel, he hasn't been confirmed yet --

BORGER: Chuck Hagel --

BLITZER: -- as the next secretary of defense.

BORGER: No, Chuck Hagel, although there are very -- at the White House, they're saying he's going to get confirmed. They had the 55 Democrat and independent votes that they need. They still say a filibuster would not be successful. But in Chuck Hagel and in John Kerry, what the president has is not a team of rivals. It's more a team of boosters. People he feels comfortable with.

That's the way he's going, clearly, in the second term. Not a lot of sort of outsiders that he doesn't -- that he doesn't know or feel will support him.

BLITZER: But we don't know yet when that final confirmation vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee --

BORGER: No, we don't.

BLITZER: -- whether Hagel would take place.

BORGER: Although --

BLITZER: Let alone a full vote at the Senate.

BORGER: Although the chairman, Carl Levin, has said, OK, you've had requests for more information about financial disclosure, this is more than is required. And it's very clear that Levin wants to schedule a vote quickly. There's a NATO ministerial meeting, I believe, February 21st, 22nd, they'd like to have Hagel confirmed by that meeting so he could attend.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Gloria, thanks very much. BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: Violent protests erupting on the streets of Tunisia.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what's the latest?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, Tunisia was held up as the model for the Arab spring and positive change. But it can be hard sometimes for real change to take hold. Tens of thousands turned out for the funeral of a prominent opposition leader assassinated Wednesday. Some demonstrators were forced to flee as riot police fired tear gas.

This killing has left the country in turmoil, many accusing the government of allowing political violence to spread unchecked. No one has claimed responsibility for that attack.

And in other news, Hugh Grant, he is getting a big check from Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch's media empire paid substantial damages to actors Hugh Grant and Christopher Eccleston. It was part of a mass settlement in that notorious U.K. phone hacking scandal involving celebrities, politicians and others.

Grant has been one of the most outspoken victims of the scandal and he helped take down a popular London tabloid. A number of senior employees are facing criminal charges.

And the flu, it is still a big deal. Just not as big of a deal as it was earlier this month. The latest CDC report says 38 states are now reporting flu activity. That number is actually down from the week before. That is a bright spot. The bad news, though, is the number of children dying from the flu has risen by 14 during the last week for a total of 59 this season.

Young children and the elderly are the most at risk and they should see a doctor right away if they get sick.

And a source close to Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s family tells CNN he has signed a plea deal. The former Illinois congressman was being investigated by the feds for alleged misuse of campaign funds. "The Chicago Sun Times" reports the deal may include, quote, "significant prison time." Lawyers representing Jackson have not returned our phone calls from CNN.

So we will see what happens. Ultimately it's going to be up to a judge now, Wolf, to decide how long that sentence is.

BLITZER: All right. If you hear anything else, let us know, Lisa. Thank you.

Our CNN iReporters are helping us cover the blizzard. We're going to have some of their reports. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots." Take a look at these. In Connecticut, our iReporter John Barnett took these shots of snow blanketing some quiet train tracks. And a barn bombarded by the blizzard. Look at this. And in Ontario, our iReporter David Bradley's windshield is blocked by snow and ice.

Send in your photos to CNNireport.com or through Instagram using the hash tag #CNNireport.

I talked to a former teammate -- classmate, I should say, of Christopher Dorner when he played football at the Southern Utah University. James Usera told me about the man he knew then and how he feels about the allegations against Dorner now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMIE USERA, FORMER CLASSMATE OF DORNER: My experience with Mr. Dorner was overwhelmingly positive. I found him to be, you know, intelligent, articulate, well-reasoned, rational. You know, really friendly, approachable, the kind of guy that most people would enjoy spending time with, which is, you know, obviously what drew me to him as a friend.

BLITZER: So when you heard that this was an individual who allegedly killed a police officer, two other people, what was your immediate reaction when you heard that?

USERA: I was absolutely shocked and somewhat befuddled, I guess would be the best way to put it. I just couldn't believe what I was reading, couldn't believe what I was hearing. For most -- I learned about this first yesterday morning, and then throughout the course of yesterday was speaking with various news personnel and doing interviews and such things. Until yesterday evening, I finally got a chance to sit down, watch some news and get sort of a bigger picture of what was going on.

And I'll tell you at that point, my reaction was shock that, you know, again, this person who I respected and considered to be a good friend was engaged in this conduct. But I was also -- experienced a feeling of some -- of almost helplessness that, you know, I wanted to -- I think we all have an innate desire to want to help our friends if we have a friend in need and the inability to really do that in this situation.

You know, one of the reasons I feel somewhat compelled to go on TV and give interviews is because, you know, first and foremost, Mr. Dorner was a friend of mine. And, you know, to the extent that I can offer any kind of assistance in bringing this situation to a close, you know, I want to be able to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)