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WASHINGTON -- A late winter storm blanketed the eastern United States with snow Wednesday, shutting down the federal government and causing aviation officials to cancel more than 1,000 flights.
The US Office of Personnel Management said federal workers in Washington and the surrounding areas would get the day off from work due to the storm, which set snowfall records in Chicago one day earlier. The streets of the nation's capital were eerily quiet as a result.
Dubbed the "snowquester" in a nod to the $85 billion in federal budget cuts known as the "sequester," the storm also caused nearly all area schools to close, as well as most local government offices.
But dire forecasts warning of the area's largest winter storm in two years failed to materialize, bringing instead a mixture of snow, sleet and rain that caused more wet misery than dramatic gridlock.
The storm that dumped about a foot of snow in Illinois and Indiana canceled more than 1,100 flights at Chicago's two main airports. At least four people died in accidents caused by the weather on Tuesday, according to local media.
As the snow moved eastward, hundreds more flights were canceled in the Washington area, according to FlightAware.com.
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency authorizing state agencies to assist local governments in responding to snowfall exceeding a foot in parts of the state bordering Washington, as more than 170,000 people lost power service.
Forecasters said the storm would head northeast toward New England on Thursday, pushing strong winds, snow and flooding to the area, after leaving parts of the central US digging out from under as much as two feet of snow.
"Snow is continuing to diminish in coverage over the mid-Atlantic states with rain near the coast," the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center said.
"High wind warnings are in effect from the coast of Delaware to coastal areas of New Jersey, along with storm warnings over the Atlantic Ocean."
The slow-moving storm was expected to continue to dump snow on the east coast through early Friday, as it crawled up the Atlantic coast to an area north of Boston, where several inches of snow are expected.
Wet heavy, snow weighed down power lines and snapped tree branches leading to outages in parts of the eastern United States.
High winds caused the Maryland Transportation Authority to close its Bay Bridge crossing over the Chesapeake Bay in both directions for several hours.
Power companies said they were reinforcing their crews in anticipation of long hours spent restoring service to customers left in the dark.
In Morristown, New Jersey, Jersey Central Power and Light said it had marshaled all available crews and support staff -- more than 1,250 people -- "to work around-the-clock, as needed, to restore service should weather-related outages occur."