The east coast of the US was hit by a blanket of blizzards on Thursday, with even Florida seeing snow fall and more than a foot blanketing parts of New England.

Already least 16 people are known to have died due to the cold – six in Wisconsin, four in Texas, three in  North Carolina, one in South Carolina, one in North Dakota and one in Missouri.

The snowstorms left more than 13 million people subject to blizzard warnings from Virginia in the mid-Atlantic to Maine in the far northeast.

More than  5,000 flights have been cancelled, schools were shut in New York City, trains were not running in the Boston area and offices closed throughout the region as the east coast battened down the hatches.

Boston on Thursday saw the worst flooding since 1978.

Graphic: What will happen next?

In Massachusetts  the National Weather Service reported some of the worst coastal flooding in recent history with roads in parts of Boston becoming impassable.

The National Guard deployed about 500 personnel along the coast.

The South, where the climate is normally milder in winter, was struggling to cope with frigid temperatures.

Florida’s capital Tallahassee saw snow for the first time in 30 years on Wednesday. Orlando’s water parks were closed.

The historic city of Charleston, South Carolina, had a rare carpet of snow – if the city gets its predicted four inches of snow, it would be the most in one day since 1989, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.

The National Weather Service in Miami said temperatures dipped below 4 C (40F) early on Thursday,  chilly enough to immobilize green iguanas common in Miami’s suburbs who fell from the trees.

Already more than 83,000 people in South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Massachusetts and Florida were without power. The number is expected to multiply as the wind and snow sweeps north.

‘Bomb Cyclone’ US winter weather, in pictures

The Arctic winds will then bring in a further freeze, with temperatures expected to plummet even further at the weekend.

The extreme weather is the result of what meteorologists have termed a "bomb cyclone" – a rapid drop in pressure, which has sucked in freezing weather from the north.

Powerful winds – in some cases exceeding 70 mph are threatening to make things worse, taking down power lines.

By the end of this week, parts of the north east will be colder than Mars. Temperatures will rise again in the middle of next week.

Many governors or local leaders have declared emergencies, and on Thursday blizzard warnings were in effect in Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Virginia.

The National Weather Service said Atlantic City, in New Jersey, could record up to 18 inches of snow, and Delaware beach towns were facing the prospect of a foot of snow.

New York mobilized additional resources by declaring a state of emergency, while a Singapore Airlines A380 was forced to land at the Stewart Airport upstate after being diverted from the city’s main JFK International.

JFK airport was briefly closed, due to high winds.

Commuters were heeding warnings to stay at home, and New York City’s Grand Central station was unusually quiet.

Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, said the storm warnings needed to be respected.

"These are tough conditions to move around in, so if you don’t need to be on the road … you shouldn’t," he said.

"Everyone needs to take this weather very seriously."

In Washington DC, government agencies opened two hours late, and the Senate scrapped votes for the rest of the week.

Graphic: What is a ‘bomb cyclone’?

Further north, in southern Maine, the snow started falling heavily at about 9am, making roads treacherous in a matter of minutes.

 By lunchtime winds and snow strengthened across New England as the population hunkered down and prepared for the bomb cyclone to hit.

Trees swayed and driving snow made driving increasingly difficult.

Already demand for heating oil has spiked with providers being swamped with calls for additional deliveries before temperatures plummet following the blizzard.

The difficulties have been worsened by road conditions which have made it harder for delivery trucks to keep up with demand.

Emergency preparations are in place with police in some parts of the state telling residents they will have to leave their home if they are left without both power and alternative sources of heat.

Towns have also set up emergency shelters to house people whose homes become uninhabitable as a result of the storm.

Flooding was also reported in parts of coastal Maine including Kennebunkport, where George HW Bush has a summer home.

With weather forecasters warning of hurricane force winds, widespread power outages are expected as electricity poles are taken down.

At the end of October nearly 500,000 people in the state were left without power following a storm, leading Paul LePage, the governor, to declare a state of emergency.

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