A band of frigid weather was snaking up the East Coast on Sunday, promising blizzards and a foot of snow for New York City and New England, while several states made emergency declarations as the storm caused crashes on slick roads.
Heavy snow and blizzards in parts of North Carolina were making driving conditions difficult, and there were dozens of traffic accidents.
North Carolina authorities reported a fatal traffic accident near Charlotte.
The North Carolina Highway Patrol said late on Saturday that most of the roads in and around Asheville were either covered or partially covered with snow and ice.
The storm is the result of a low pressure system off the North Carolina coast that will strengthen into a major storm as it moves northeast, according to the National Weather Service.
The snow brought a rare white Christmas to the South.
Columbia, in South Carolina, had its first significant Christmas snow since weather records were first kept in 1887.
Airlines grounded hundreds of flights on Sunday along the Northeast corridor in anticipation of the storm, affecting major airports including New York's John F Kennedy Airport and Newark.
New York City-area airports alone cancelled close to 1,000 flights.
The National Weather Service is expecting heavy snow and strong winds with considerable blowing and drifting of snow with almost no visibility at times.
The snow estimates are 11 to 16 inches (28 to 41 centimetres) with locally higher amounts possible.
In Secaucus, New Jersey, road clearing crews were out early and pre-positioned to start treating roadway surfaces as the snow started to fall.
Residents of Secaucus in New Jersey have been buying shovels and sacks of sand in local supermarkets, preparing to fight severe weather conditions.
The Northeast is expected to get the brunt of the storm.
Forecasters issued a blizzard warning for New York City for Sunday and Monday, with a forecast of 11 to 16 inches (28 to 41 centimetres) of snow and strong winds that will reduce visibility to near zero at times.
A blizzard warning was also in effect for Rhode Island and most of eastern Massachusetts including Boston, with forecasters predicting 15 to 20 inches (38 to 51 centimetres) of snow.
A blizzard warning is issued when snow is accompanied by sustained winds or gusts over 35 miles-per-hour (56 kilometres-per-hour).
As much as 18 inches (46 centimetres) could fall on the New Jersey shore with wind gusts over 40 miles-per-hour (64 kilometres-per-hour).
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter declared a snow emergency as of 2 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Sunday, and he urged residents to stay off the roads.
In Washington DC, transportation officials treated roads with salt and readied 200 salt trucks and ploughs in preparation for the six inches (15 centimetres) of snow to fall in the Mid-Atlantic region.
In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino declared a snow emergency that bans parking on all major streets.
By early Sunday, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina had also declared states of emergency.
Amtrak cancelled several of its trains in Virginia.