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Media reports from Jacksonville, Florida say frozen precipitation is already falling from a massive winter storm that's expected to move north. Jacksonville could get sleet and possibly snow. Blizzard conditions could reach New England by Friday. AP

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A potent winter storm threatened to dump wind-driven snow and ice from Florida to Maine as a fierce cold wave's unrelenting grip on the nation showed no signs of easing Tuesday, forecasters warned. 

Schools were shuttered and records shattered as relief for more than 200 million Americans remains several days away.

If that wasn't enough, the National Weather Service issued winter storm watches and warnings all the way from northern Florida to northern Maine, a distance of about 1,500 miles.

A winter storm warning was in effect for portions of the Florida panhandle, where a mix of snow and ice is in the forecast early Wednesday. This is the state's first such warning in almost four years, the weather service said. 

Snow and/or ice is also forecast in portions of Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and New York.

The Weather Channel has named the storm Winter Storm Grayson as part of its winter-storm naming system. 

As much as a quarter of an inch of ice and a couple of inches of snow, with locally higher amounts, are possible from portions of the Florida panhandle to eastern North Carolina on Wednesday, the weather service said.

New England will also take a pounding, where Maine could see a foot of snow and hurricane-force winds, AccuWeather forecast. 

Blizzard conditions are likely from portions of Long Island, N.Y., to northeastern Maine, New Brunswick and western Nova Scotia, AccuWeather said.

The storm is forecast to explode off the New England coast and could be the most powerful non-hurricane to affect the Northeast in the past 30 years, according to Earth Networks meteorologist Anthony Sagliani.

“Our biggest concern is the potential for damaging wind gusts especially near the southeast New England coast,” the weather service in Boston said. “Power outage risk followed by arctic air Fri/Sat a big concern!”

Tremendous blowing and drifting snow is likely and some communities may be isolated for several days in the wake of the storm, AccuWeather said.

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While ice and snow are pretty to look at, they can be dangerous. We do not recommend jumping into anything frozen. USA TODAY

In the meantime, a freeze watch was in effect Tuesday night for Lake City, Fla., 60 miles west of Jacksonville. A wintry mix was forecast for Wednesday. The snow, wind and travel disruptions will roll north Wednesday night through Thursday night.

In all, about 208 million Americans are forecast to wake up to freezing temperatures Wednesday morning, weather.us meteorologist Ryan Maue said.

And the cold isn't going away.

“After a brief moderation from the cold at midweek, more bitter cold and downright harsh air will return,” AccuWeather meteorologist Kyle Elliott said.

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The next air mass will be up to 10 degrees colder than the front that froze the Northeast the last few days, Elliott said.

Some all-time cold temperature records could be set. 

"I don't know if we are going to set any records for heating energy usage, but we are certainly going to stress-test the system," former weather service meteorologist Gary Szatkowski said.

The extended cold wave, which began creeping across the nation before Christmas, enveloped a swath of the country from Montana and Texas to the East Coast. The Southeast wasn't spared — Atlanta awoke to 13 degrees on Tuesday and barely broke above freezing later in the day.

The weather already has been deadly. In Wisconsin, the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office said the bodies of two men found outdoors Sunday showed signs of hypothermia. In Bismarck, N.D., police said cold weather "may have been a factor" in the death of a 52-year-old man whose body was found lying in the snow.

In Indiana, the 30,000 students in the Indianapolis school system were kept home because of "dangerous weather conditions." The temperature at 7 a.m. was -11 degrees with a wind chill mark below -20 degrees.

Cincinnati's 35,000 students had their holiday break extended at least a day when authorities closed the schools because of the cold. Other districts in Ohio, including Canton, shut schools for the day.

In western New York, blinding snow Tuesday led to a massive pileup on I-90 near Buffalo, which involved at least 75 cars. 

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Boston schools soldiered on, but some nearby districts such as Everett, Mass., shut down for the day; others delayed opening a couple hours. On Saturday, Boston could challenge its lowest maximum temperature ever recorded for the date — 7 degrees, in 1896, AccuWeather said.

In South Dakota, Aberdeen hit -32 degrees on New Year’s Day, smashing a record that stood for 99 years. In Nebraska, Omaha's 15-below 0 degrees on Sunday broke a record dating to 1884.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio kicked off his second term Monday with an outdoor swearing-in ceremony and temperatures in the teens. It may not get that warm on Saturday.

Contributing: The Associated Press

 

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