|Major airlines cancelled hundreds of flights due to freezing temperatures leaving passengers stranded [EPA]
US airlines have cancelled hundreds of flights as freezing weather grips the east coast and the deep south.
Delta Airlines cancelled more than 300 flights due to depart on Saturday from Atlanta's Hartfield Jackson International Airport, its largest US hub, and another 200 flights from other US cities.
"At this point we're still looking at the weather, and we are advising customers that there will be more cancellations [on Sunday and Monday] if the weather moves north," Kent Landers, Delta's spokesman, told the AFP news agency.
Continental Airlines announced on Saturday evening that it was cancelling 250 flights departing from Newark Liberty International Airport outside New York City.
And United Airlines said weather conditions would probably force delays and cancellations at their airline's hub at Washington Dulles International Airport and at other northeastern airports between Saturday and Monday.
Light to moderate snow blanketed communities in the southern Gulf states of Alabama and Mississippi, meteorologists said, while Atlanta, Georgia reportedly enjoyed its first snowy Christmas in 128 years.
Snowfalls were expected to break records in the normally mild south, where residents were surprised by the winter weather.
The North and South Carolina states also experienced Christmas snow for the first time since 1989, when a foot fell along the coast.
In Asheville, North Carolina, the National Weather Service said snow fell at the rate of about an inch an hour, rendering mountain roads impassable for all but four-wheel drive vehicles.
As much as 10 inches could fall by Sunday morning, which would break the previous Christmas Day record of 5.4 inches set in 1969, weather officials said.
Covered with snow
The North Carolina Highway Patrol said most of the roads in and around Asheville were either covered or partially covered with snow and ice.
For Columbia, South Carolina, it is the first significant Christmas snow since weather records were first kept in 1887.
Snow is predicted for Washington DC and travel authorities warned of potentially dangerous roads.
The National Weather Service said the storm could bring six to 10 inches of snow to the capital, beginning on Sunday.
The Weather Service was also forecasting significant snow for Philadelphia, New York and Boston, with as much as 18 inches falling on the New Jersey shore starting on Sunday morning and wind gusts of up to 64km per hour.
Virginia and North Carolina declared states of emergency on Saturday as airlines assessed whether to cancel flights for post-Christmas travellers.