Flood waters and storm surges hammered the Jersey Shore as the snowfall portion of a blizzard-like storm shifted north bringing 30 inches and more to parts of the Lehigh Valley.

"The storm is nowhere near over," said NBC10 First Alert Weather chief meteorologist Glenn "Hurricane" Schwartz. "We have hours and hours of this to go."

Related stories

Snow could fall at more than an inch an hour through the afternoon in the northern suburbs and Lehigh Valley -- dropping at up to 4 inches an hour at one point as places like South Allentown reported 31 inches of snow.

Millions of Americans awoke Saturday to heavy snow outside their doorsteps as a mammoth winter storm crawled up the East Coast, making roads impassable, shutting down mass transit and bringing the Philadelphia region to a near standstill.

"This is kind of a top-10 snowstorm," said winter storm expert Paul Kocin, who co-wrote a two-volume textbook on blizzards.

By midday Saturday the storm had already made history as it dropped more than 17 inches of snow on Philadelphia. That confirmed the storm is one of 10 snowiest ever.

Glenn and the NBC10 First Alert Weather Team warned us about the severity of the snow and flooding for days before the first flakes fell. The storm blanketed the region with heavy snow and strong winds that led to thousands of power outages throughout the area and snow drifts.

Out in western Pennsylvania tour buses and cars -- hundreds in total -- got stranded on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Gov. Tom Wolf didn't want anyone else to wind up in a tough spot. Wolf urged people to "stay home" so that PennDOT crews could do their jobs and clear the snow.

"We need everyone in Pennsylvania to exercise self-restraint" when it comes to driving, said Wolf. "This is a historic snowstorm, this is not something that happens everyday."

In New Jersey, hundreds of motorists hit roads despite warnings, leading to 222 crashes and 868 calls for aid as of 1 p.m., said New Jersey State Police.

Most people seemed to heed warnings to stay home and off the roads, which were largely deserted. But more was yet to come, with blizzard conditions expected to persist throughout the day.

Anywhere from 23 to 30 inches of snow are expected in northern and western suburbs and Lehigh Valley and more than 17 inches had already fallen in Philadelphia by Saturday morning. Some isolated areas could see near 3 feet of snow, said the National Weather Service.

Estimated Totals (will be updated)

Snow totals could vary up to 20-plus inches of snow.

23-30 inches: Western and northern suburbs; Allentown; Northampton and Lehigh counties

17-23 inches: Philadelphia; Camden; Wilmington; Trenton; immediate suburbs; and parts of northern Delaware

12-17 inches: Dover; Poconos, parts of inland South Jersey

8-12 inches: Jersey Shore and southern Delaware

4-8 inches: Southernmost Jersey Shore

The NBC10 First Alert Weather Team will be refining and updating predictions as more information becomes available.

The massive storm brought record storm surges to Cape May, New Jersey and Lewes, Delaware, said Glenn. In several Jersey Shore towns -- including Wildwood and Sea Isle -- conditions went downhill Saturday morning as debris floated along flooded roads. In New Jersey, 40,000 customers were without power at one point Saturday, most of them along the coast.

In Wildwood the storm surge was higher than the highest high they experienced during Superstorm Sandy, said officials.

Snow emergencies are in effect as a major storm that could dump up to two feet of snow on parts of the region and flood the coast.

Timing

Saturday:

Until 5 p.m. - Snow picks up, windy conditions, near zero visibility in some spots.
Snow Drift in the Parking Garage?

5 to 8 p.m. - Winds begin to decrease, moderate snowfall

8 p.m. to after midnight - Snow tapers off.

The high tide shortly after 7 p.m. raises a major concern down the shore on the ocean and back bays.

High Tide Times for Jersey Shore and Coastal Delaware

Saturday: 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Sunday: 7:15 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. (this high tide might not be as severe as first thought)

Wind was a major component of this storm. Blizzards have defined wind (35+ mph), snow and visibility of a 1/4 mile or less.

The NBC10 First Alert Weather Team issued a First Alert Weather Warning for Friday into early Sunday. You should plan to stay home for the duration of the storm with nasty conditions and bad visibility expected.

The brunt of the storm should come Saturday making travel difficult if not possible, said NBC10 First Alert Weather meteorologist Bill Henley.

"No one's going anywhere, unless it's an emergency," said Glenn.

But that didn't stop people from venturing out on foot for everything from walking the dog to hitting the grocery store to buy the ingredients for banana pancakes.

Toward the end of the storm, temps will fall again and snow will get lighter and fluffier. You're going to want to get on that wet snow early before it gets buried and freezes solid. It will be much harder to shovel after that.

States of emergency were declared in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. State of emergency declarations allow the governor to make state resources immediately available to help rescue, evacuate or shelter residents. They could also help the state seek federal assistance if the scope of the event exceeds state resources.

Many local municipalities including Philly also declared emergencies. The declaration of a snow emergency in Philadelphia means all cars parked on snow emergency route must be moved. A list of the snow emergency routes can be found here. As a result of the snow emergency declaration, drivers can park at Philadelphia Parking Authority garages for $5. The city's Emergency Operations Center began operating at 8 p.m. Friday and will go into full activation Saturday.

SEPTA suspended all bus routes and stopped all train services outside of the Market-Frankford and Broad Street Line subway lines starting at 4 a.m. Saturday. The Philadelphia International Airport canceled all flights in and out of the airport Saturday.

In Delaware, DART suspended all paratransit and bus services not only Saturday but also Sunday.

"This is one you're going to want to get ahead of and clear as much as you can on Sunday because it's going to freeze solid on Monday morning," said Bill.

The Blizzard Warning lasts until 6 a.m. Sunday for much of the region.