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Monster Storm Detailed; More than 85 Million People in Path of Monster Storm; Thousands of Flights Already Cancelled. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 22, 2016 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to this special blizzard edition of THE LEAD. East Coast, the time to take cover is now.

I'm Jake Tapper. I'm coming to you from the nation's capital where this blizzard is just getting started, 85 million people in the path of this storm, and the weather already to blame for at least four deaths in North Carolina after accidents on those treacherous roads.

Just as the CNN weather team has been warning for days, this record- breaking blizzard has a bullseye on your nation's capital. Whiteout conditions are along the way, along with wind gusts over 60 miles per hour. That's nearly hurricane strength.

The federal government shut down early today and the subway system will soon stop running trains. In the Southern United States, the storm is dumping heavy snow and leaving regions covered in ice. In the Carolinas, the weather's to blame for nearly 30,000 power outages. In Chicago a plane nearly rolled off the runway at O'Hare International Airport. More than 6,000 flights have been canceled nationwide to prevent a similar scene or potentially one even worse.

From the Southeast to points North, CNN is out in full force. We have an entire team deployed on the ground, bringing you the latest conditions.

We're going to start right here with meteorologist Jennifer Gray.

Jennifer, now we're told that there's going to be a thing called thundersnow. I remember that from a few years ago. Remind everybody what thundersnow is.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, just like when you get heavy rainfall, you will get lightning or thunder. Some of those heavier bands of snow, especially here in D.C., around midnight, be listening for it, will get lightning, and we could even have thundersnow, those really heavy bands.

Now, it is going to continue to pick up. Right now, we're seeing steady snow, but as we go forward over the next several hours, especially by around 10:00 tonight very, very heavy snow. And then it is supposed to pick up even more, that thundersnow, around midnight possibly.

For New York, that is the tricky one, because we are going to see those first snowflakes around 10:00 tonight. And then we're going to see it pick up by morning tomorrow. And we're in this for the long haul. This isn't going to be over in a couple hours. We're talking 36 hours of steady snowfall. And during the worst of it, overnight, we could see snowfall rates at two to three inches per hour, so 20 to 30 inches of snow possible in the D.C. area.

You're also going to have winds of about 30 to 40 miles per hour,, gusts up to 60. And so the snow is going to be blowing around. Visibility is going to be near zero. And then as this continues to track up to the north, we're going to see possible blizzard conditions in places like New York City and points north before this finally pulls away by late on Saturday, early Sunday, depending on where you are.

TAPPER: And the mayor of D.C. warning people to get off the streets. She said that everybody should have been home more than an hour ago. You can hear sirens going on. She's saying this is life or death.

GRAY: It is. It's life or death. They're supposed to be off the road by 3:00 this afternoon. We saw thousands of people on the National Mall around 1:00 to 2:00 this afternoon. A few cars still out. We have seen the plows roll by, but this is going to be a very long storm. This is a slow mover.


GRAY (voice-over): Tonight, the monster storm is barrelling up the East Coast with roughly a quarter of the entire U.S. population in its path. Several fatalities are already blamed on the storm, which quickly left parts of North Carolina and Tennessee frozen under a blanket of snow and ice, crippling the region.

Six states and the district of Columbia have so far declared a state of emergency. And with 30 million people under blizzard warnings, as the storm moves north, major cities are bracing for high winds and record amounts of snow. The storm's biggest target, Washington, D.C., the mayor today issuing an ominous warning.

MURIEL BOWSER (D), MAYOR OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: I want to be very clear with everybody. We see this as a major storm. It has life and death implications. And all the residents of the District of Columbia should treat it that way.

GRAY: To minimize the storm's massive impact on the nation's capital, federal agencies closed early and all public transportation services will be suspended by later tonight.

Popular landmarks like the National Mall have also been closed to the public. Today, the National Weather Service extended its blizzard warning to include Philadelphia and New York City, millions now staring down a storm that could rank among the worst in nearly a century.


GRAY: And the other big problem with this storm are going to be the power outages. Jake, look at this. See the snowflakes? They're getting fatter and fatter. These are very wet, heavy snowflakes. These are going to stick to the branches of trees, power lines. And so we could see power outages as we go forward in time.

TAPPER: Horrible news. Jennifer Gray, thank you so much.

Residents up and down the East Coast are bracing for a potentially record-shattering storm. The National Guard has already been deployed in Washington, D.C.


CNN correspondent Chris Frates joining me now live from the National Mall, where, earlier today, there was a major protest, a march, anti- abortion.

Chris, you're standing near this major Washington, D.C., thoroughfare. What's it like there? What's the visibility?

CHRIS FRATES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the visibility is getting worse, Jake, as you might imagine.

I will take you down toward 14th Street, which, as you know, on any other workday, would be pretty busy, but pretty abandoned right now. And that's because they asked for everybody to get off the streets by 3:00. It appears people are doing that. And while it looks like a pretty picturesque scene here, Jake, don't break out the sleds. Don't bring the cross-country skis.

Officials are saying that you should stay inside. We heard Muriel Bowser there in the last package talking about how this is a life or death situation, and her emergency management director saying that this storm will be fatal and that people should stay off the streets.

Maryland, Washington, Virginia all have states of emergency. That gets them federal help if they need it, the National Guard. Now, the city's been shut down since about noon, city government, the federal government, and school has been closed all day. They want to keep people off the streets. That's their main goal. They want to get salt down. We were at a salt dome in Northeast D.C., earlier today.

Those trucks were coming in and out regularly, trying to get salt down, get ahead of this storm and see if they make it easier to dig out. But officials here are saying, please don't go out now. Stay at home and weather this storm through Saturday. They're saying don't come out and play with this in the snow. Don't come out for your snowball fights until at least Sunday, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Chris Frates, thank you so much.

And joining me now is Chris Geldart, director of Washington, D.C.'s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

Chris, how are things going so far? This storm obviously has just started.

CHRISTOPHER GELDART, DIRECTOR, D.C. HOMELAND SECURITY AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: Yes, we are just seeing the initial bands of the storm come in right now.

I think -- been out. I just came out off the streets a little bit ago. And the pre-treating that we have been doing for the last, oh, 24 hours or so and then especially this afternoon with salt really seems to be helping us on our major arterials.

However, the snow is coming down pretty good and, you know, we're starting to get accumulations on the roads. So we're getting into that time where, you know, we advise folks to be off the road and where they need to be by 3:00. And we're past that now. So, we're hoping folks are really taking heed to that, are heading to where they need to be right now.

TAPPER: That's right, the mayor saying everybody should be off the streets by 3:00. And as you can hear behind me, possibly, there's still a lot of traffic.

What are the priorities at this point in the storm in these early stages?

GELDART: Again, it's making sure folks understand the gravity of what's coming our way and are taking this storm very seriously.

You know, the longer folks are on the street, the more opportunity and potential there are for accidents that put our first-responders out on the street more and make them more vulnerable. So, you know, the concern right now is making sure folks understand this is a dangerous storm. It's time to go home. It's time to be indoors.

TAPPER: The mayor has acknowledged that the city was not prepared for the dusting and icing the city received Wednesday. Are you confident you can handle this much bigger storm?

GELDART: Yes, we're really talking about two totally different types of events.

The storm we had the other night is a vulnerable time once we get snow, for us, right at rush hour, when there hasn't been a lot of lead time for us understanding what was coming in and the forecast only calling for half-an-inch. That led to us not getting the treatment out there in time to really address that situation we had Wednesday night.

This is a totally different storm and totally different situation that we're looking at. We have been preparing for this for quite some time. We have been putting our plans in place. We have advised the public to stay off the road. We have closed the government. We have told folks to be off the road and in their homes by the time the snow comes.

And, as we saw with this one, we're pretty much on with the forecast. We are starting to see accumulations and it is past 3:00. So, I think we have done a much better job at prepping for this one. And, again, this is a totally different event than what we had the other night.

TAPPER: All right, Chris Geldart, thank you so much. Best of luck.

GELDART: Thank you, sir.

TAPPER: The roads treacherous already in several areas -- people have been warned to stay home. We have a crew out there right now. We're going to go there live next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper live in the snow.

We're just blocks from Capitol Hill, the bullseye of this potentially deadly winter storm moving up the East Coast. It's already been deadly in North Carolina. Officials are telling people to stay home in these extreme icy and blinding conditions.

Let's now go to CNN correspondent Brian Todd, who's sitting shotgun with a team navigating roads in the area.

Brian, there was just a dusting, an icing Wednesday night. It created that sheet of ice, causing hundreds of people to abandon their cars. This is a much more severe storm. How's it looking?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, the conditions are getting worse, and we're heading into a crucial period this evening, when conditions will worsen even further.

We are on 95 South heading past Springfield, Virginia. This is a major artery. Normally, on a Friday afternoon, we'd be probably in gridlock right now. You can see some cars in front of us on the dash- cam. And then we have another camera you can see me on.

We're pulling over into a cut in the road now to kind of show you what we're up against here. I'm going to get out, talk to the dash-cam.

And you can see some of the conditions here. Our switcher, David Bird (ph), just can switch this to the dash-cam in the front now. As you can see what we're -- what motorists are up against, visibility is a real problem.

[16:15:01] We were talking to people at AAA and the National Weather Service, Jake, who said that visibility is going to be the issue. Maybe not more than a quarter mile in any direction, and as you can see up here, visibility is very, very poor and it's getting worse. And, again, when we start getting into darkness and temperatures dropping, it's going to get even worse.

Now we're going to switch to this portable camera here as we can see some of the cars. My team and I are quite frankly surprised that there's still this many cars out on the road because, again, talking to people at the National Weather Service, talking to people at AAA and other traffic monitors, and state officials, they're all saying stay off the roads. But look at this volume heading south. Still a lot of people who wanted to venture into work in the D.C. area, are trying to get out of this. And, frankly, Jake, a lot of them may be too late because they may run into some problems.

What we're told by AAA is if there are conditions you're running into like Wednesday and you're sliding off the road, do not abandon your car. Stay in your car until you're rescued, turn the engine off, then turn it on for five minutes so you can stay warm. That's the advice they're giving for people like these folks who are venturing out and may run into some problems later, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Brian Todd, thanks so much. Please stay safe.

Washington, D.C. is the bullseye of this storm, but it's far from the only city being hit. Several states have declared states of emergency. This system sprawls up the East Coast with roughly 85 million people in its crosshairs.

Let's bring in two reporters who are standing by in the south. First let's go to Polo Sandoval. He's in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Polo, how is it looking there?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, look around me at this park in the heart of Charlotte. Hard to -- hard to really remind yourself that we are in the south. This is what conditions have been looking like really much of today. Look over my shoulder folks have still been turning out to check into sites, but officials here on the ground quick to remind folks that the worst could not be -- may not be over. In fact, right now, we're still seeing this wave of winter weather sweep through the area.

This is actually a lot worse than what we saw earlier today. That's because temperatures have dropped. And with that will come really a higher risk for ice on the roadways. Sadly, we've seen at least four deaths here in North Carolina already due to traffic accidents. So, authorities are reminding the public to simply stay at home until the worst of the weather is over. This is the kind of weather folks are not used to and especially don't want given the fact that on Sunday it's highly anticipated NFC championship game which by the way is still moving on, still going to happen come Sunday.

But for now officials asking folks simply stay home and really take in the site from their window.

Nick Valencia, this is something you are seeing right now though in Fairfax, Virginia.


Yes, the meteorologists and weather models got it right on this one. They said around 4:00 p.m. would be the heaviest snowfall we'd see here in Fairfax, Virginia. That's exactly what we're getting.

Let's just show -- take a look at what the accumulation that's happened so far, just about an inch of snow gathering here and we are at the epicenter Virginia Department of Transportation where they are preparing the thousands of plows that have already hit those roadways. This is the kind of stuff that they're putting there on the roadways here. It's this mixture of salt, feels a lot like rock hard glass here.

Let's walk over here and show you more and introduce you to the man of the hour, a guy that's really setting up a lot of the preparations here.

Steve Shannon, any bit of advice for those that are watching at home?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're in subdivisions now. We encourage everyone to park on the odd side of the road if they have to be on the road. Otherwise, park in your driveway or your garage.

VALENCIA: And we just saw on the interstate, what did you see out there? How are the roads looking to you? How do you see them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the interstate was looking good, especially on I-66, westbound. And that's because there's a lot of traffic though. And we treated the roads and it was clear.

VALENCIA: So, main point people are listening, people are paying attention. Thank you very much for all that you guys are doing. They're protecting your lives out there making sure that the roads are safe.

At the height of this they could expect between 3 and 6 inches of snow, perhaps up to 40 inches throughout the weekend. This storm is really no joke -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nick Valencia and Polo Sandoval, thank you so much. Stay safe and warm to both of you.

Let's now talk to an official from the commonwealth of Virginia. Joining me on the phone a spokesperson from the Virginia National Guard Cotton Puryear.

Cotton, thanks for joining me. How is the guard preparing right now? What are you doing?

COTTON PURYEAR, STATE PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER, VIRGINIA NATIONAL GUARD (via telephone): Well, thanks to the quick decision by our governor to give us plenty of advance notice, we've been able to get our guard forces stationed throughout the commonwealth. And we're staged and ready. Right now, we're mainly linking up with Virginia State Police.

We haven't gotten a lot of missions at this point with the snow levels. We've been assisting troopers get to crash site locations, but the most important thing is we're staged and ready as snow continues to pile up. We work as part of a state agency team with the Department of Transportation, with the state police. So we're going to do whatever we can to help them out.

TAPPER: And, Cotton, obviously, we're all hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

[16:20:02] What is the worst case scenario for the Virginia National Guard?

PURYEAR: Well, in terms of worst case scenario, we've faced some pretty heavy snow before, and we've got good equipment that can get us through heavy snow. Our soldiers have done this sort of thing before. And, again, it's that great team that we've got here in the commonwealth of Virginia.

So, I think we're ready to be able to assist. And we've got a lot of flexibility to be able to provide capability depending on what sorts of challenges we face.

TAPPER: This storm is supposed to be ending Saturday, tomorrow. What might Monday look like? Can commuters expect that they will be able to get to work by then?

PURYEAR: Well, Jake, I have to confess I'm not a meteorologist, so I'm really not sure. We monitor the weather. And just to be able to make sure that we've got the right equipment mix out there. But I have to confess I haven't looked that closely Monday. We're focusing in on right now and making sure we've got the stuff out there to be able to help our partners.

TAPPER: Fair enough.

Virginia is bringing in 300 national guardsmen. The governor, Terry McAuliffe, also said there are 700 members of the National Guard on standby for possible assistance with any needs in the state, in the commonwealth. Do you think that's enough, 1,000?

PURYEAR: I think so. We do an initial force package to start off based on our best estimate of what we're looking at, but we've got additional capability that we can bring in once we kind of get an idea is it a wet snow, a dry snow, do we start to see trees fall down and we need more engineer type of equipment. So, I think that's a really good estimate at this point what we think we need.

There's more if we need it. If it turns out to be even worse, we've got more depth beyond that. And if the governor decides that we need to bring it in, we'll call in our soldiers and airmen and bring in to provide assistance.

TAPPER: Cotton Puryear from the Virginia National Guard, best of luck to you and your men and women. Appreciate it.

PURYEAR: Thank you, Jake. Appreciate it.

TAPPER: You don't have to live on the East Coast to feel the effects of this massive storm. Flights are being canceled across the country. Airports totally shut down. That story next.

Plus, Donald Trump trashed by a conservative magazine. And now, there are consequences. 2016 news coming up.


[16:26:16] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Continuing with our top story. You see the snow there hitting Charlotte, North Carolina. It's part of this potentially record breaking storm bearing down on much of the East Coast.

Take a look at the U.S. capital right behind me. See it, the Capitol dome? See it? You can't see it. Even though it's only four blocks away, the snow is coming down so thick and so heavy we can't see it at all.

That storm has also caused more than 6,000 flights to have already been canceled.

CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh is live at Ronald Reagan National Airport outside Washington, D.C.

Rene, how many more flights should we expect to be grounded?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the list sounds like this, JetBlue just e-mailed me operations suspended in Washington, D.C. area and Baltimore. United operations suspended. American Airlines suspending their operations in about an hour.

I mean, take a look behind me. Not a soul. That woman there, she's an employee here at the airport. So, what -- the fact of the matter is this major storm has managed to put travel, air travel specifically, at a standstill in several major northeastern airports.


MARSH (voice-over): As snow blankets the east coast, the storm caused a travel headache for thousands long before the brunt of the blizzard even hit. Passengers showing up hours before their scheduled flights.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's this or hotel for the next several days. So, hoping to get out.

MARSH: Most airlines have canceled flights up and down the East Coast Friday afternoon through Saturday. Flight tracking website FlightAware shows dwindling air traffic over the blizzard's path. Travelers waited in long lines early this morning in hopes of beating the storm. And a few were lucky to get on some of the last flights out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our flight was for Sunday and we found one ticket to leave today for Las Vegas.

MARSH (on camera): So you do not want to take any chances. You want to get out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not at all. Yes. We want to get out. We're going to get out.

MARSH (voice-over): Flights will halt in and out of Philadelphia International Airport starting Saturday. Other airports that will get a direct hit, like Reagan National and Washington Dulles, will likely also stop operations.

But it's not just air travel. Officials are warning drivers to keep off roads as well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've never seen it this bad. Oh, no. I feel sorry for those guys down there. There's nothing they can do but sit there. And I live on up the road here. So I just thought I'm going to walk.

MARSH: Ice and snow made for hazardous driving conditions in Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina this morning. High winds are expected to complicate efforts to keep the roads clear. Major bridges could be closed, and many states have asked drivers to stay off the roads.


MARSH: Well, disruptions may persist for two, three, possibly more days as airlines work to clear the backlog of passengers who were not able to get to their destination, Jake.

TAPPER: Rene Marsh, thank you so much.

Let's bring in Mark Murphy. He's a travel expert and founder of

Mark, thanks for joining us.

What advice would you give to travelers today?

MARK MURPHY, TRAVELPULSE.COM: I would just stay put. If you haven't gotten out yet, then you've missed your window. And you're probably not going to get out, if you're lucky Sunday, more likely Monday or Tuesday. Your reporter was right on the mark with that.

TAPPER: And what about travelers who don't live in the path of the storm? They still might be affected by the cancellations of flights, right?

MURPHY: Yes. What people don't realize you could be flying out of phoenix, but if your plane from New York City is on the ground and doesn't get to Phoenix, you're going to get stuck. And that's why you have a system wide issue, not just the areas that are affected.