© Paul MartinkaSchool maintenance crew clears snow from Public School 230 on 12th Avenue & Dahill Road in Kensington, Brooklyn. 8 to 12 inches are expected.
New York City and its suburbs are preparing to get walloped by the snowstorm that has crippled travel and caused power outages across the East Coast.

Stores closed early and driving became treacherous as snow began sticking to the roads. There were minor delays at the area's three major airports.

National Weather Service meteorologist Patrick Maloit says that the storm will drop about 8 to 10 inches of snow on the city. A blizzard was expected to hit the Long Island suburbs, with 12 to 18 inches forecast. Snow was dropping steadily by about 6:30 p.m.

Maloit says the area will get hit with the brunt of the storm in the next hour or two as a band of heavy snow moves northward.

Five deaths appeared to have been caused by the storm system, which stretched from the Carolinas north to New England and also spread into some Midwestern states. The 14 inches of snow that fell at Reagan National Airport outside Washington was the most ever recorded for a single December day, while about 9 inches had fallen in Philadelphia.

Those who did venture out were treated to nearly desolate stores on what is usually one of the busiest shopping days of the year. There were virtually no lines to get a picture with a mall Santa on the last weekend before Christmas.

The National Guard used Humvees to rescue stranded motorists in Virginia and some 500 people had sought warmth and refuge in emergency shelters.

"The snow has not stopped falling, the storm isn't over, and folks should not think this is crying wolf," said Laura Southard, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

More than two feet of snow fell in some areas since yesterday, and the nation's capital was under a blizzard warning. Public transportation nearly ground to a halt, but it wasn't enough to keep senators from staying in session to debate health care reform.

The slow-moving storm was headed to the Northeast, where forecasters said parts of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts could see more than 16 inches by Sunday night. Forecasters expected the storm to drop as many as 10 inches on New York City.

Snowplows cleared the runway at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Washington as President Barack Obama returned from climate talks in Copenhagen. The White House said Obama rode in a motorcade back to the White House, instead of taking his helicopter, because of the conditions.

The region was virtually a sea of white. The Smithsonian Institution closed its museums, and the National Mall, which normally would be swarming with tourists, instead was the scene of snowball fights and cross-country skiers.