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(CNN) -- There was a theme Tuesday to departure boards at airports along the East Coast: Canceled.
With almost 3,000 flights called off Tuesday, passengers had to change their plans for getting home, getting to meetings, getting on with their lives.
Michaele Bates was stuck at LaGuardia Airport in New York, wondering how she was going to get back to Atlanta to make her deliveries on Wednesday.
"I can't get out until Thursday," the small business owner told CNN. "I'm kind of wrecked, but you can't do anything about it. It's the weather."
It's the weather that was causing cities along the East Coast to shut down early Tuesday night as a major snowstorm hampered life and travel in states from North Carolina to Maine.
Winter storm warnings and watches were in effect for all or part of 13 states from the mid-Atlantic to New England. There was a blizzard warning for Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Some areas could see more than a foot of snow, CNN Meteorologist Jennifer Gray said. In New York, the wind chill might bottom out at minus 12 degrees overnight.
Washington, where even the White House took a snow day Tuesday, was expected to get at least 8 inches of snow, forecasters said. Snow also was falling in North Carolina, CNN affiliate WRAL reported.
The storm should push into the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday morning, Gray said.
The areas that are frigid already and the eastern half of the nation will shiver through temperatures 10 to 25 degrees below average.
While the precipitation might head offshore, the vast area is expected to stay in the icebox until the weekend. That can mean lows in the teens in Memphis, Tennessee; and in the single digits from Louisville, Kentucky; to Boston.
A second frigid weather system is moving down from Canada and will plunge low temperatures into the double-digit minus degrees all along the border. Whipping winds will knock the wind chill down to 20 to 40 below zero from the Upper Plains states to northern Missouri.
A small but intense snowstorm is dumping up to 10 inches of snow in metropolitan Chicago as moisture over Lake Michigan mixes with frigid air.
Heavy snow -- as much as 1 inch per hour -- fell in Philadelphia, and officials for the city's National Hockey League Flyers told fans that Tuesday night's game against the Carolina Hurricanes was postponed because of the conditions.
Governors in Delaware, New Jersey and New York issued states of emergency. More than 1,700 plows in New York were to hit the roads Tuesday night to try to clear up to 10 inches of snow.
Across the region, officials encouraged workers to head home early and suggested people at home stay put.
Travel nightmares were taking hold along the East Coast. As of 10:50 p.m. ET Tuesday, 1,361 flights have already been canceled within, into, or out of the United States for Wednesday, according to FlightAware.com tracking data.
The flight tracking website includes cancellations for weather, mechanical and other issues in its total.
At Philadelphia International Airport, Southwest Airlines canceled all of its afternoon arrivals and departures, according to the airport's flight information page. Other major airports also told of air carriers shutting down early. At LaGuardia, there were no flights after 4 p.m. and 690 flights in all were called off.
David Franz told CNN he had three flights to Chicago that were delayed, then canceled.
"I'm in New York for the night," he said. "I'm going to get caught up at the Marriott and have a nice night."
Other stranded passengers waited for loved ones to come get them. Lisa Deere was supposed to go to Cleveland for a business meeting. Instead she never made it past the tarmac. After 45 minutes, the plane returned to the gate.
She tried to get a car service to take her home; no one was answering. Her husband was two hours away, three hours in this weather.
"We have an SUV. So, hopefully, he'll make it," she said.
The federal government is closing its offices, telling most D.C. employees to dispense with the drive to work. Only emergency employees are required to go to work, the Office of Personnel Management said.
The cancellations at snow-doused airports may cause a ripple effect throughout the nation's air traffic system.
By Tuesday afternoon, a significant number of flights -- more than 2,900 -- had been canceled nationwide, FlightAware reported. There were 1,500 cancellations at New York metro airports, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said.
Amtrak said on its website that it was running a regular schedule in the northeast, but passengers should expect some delays. On Wednesday, the rail carrier will run a modified schedule for the Northeast Corridor trains between Washington and Boston.
CNN's Rose Arce, Suzanne Presto and Leigh Remizowski contributed to this story.