(CNN) -- They're calling it "snowquester."
A winter storm that set snowfall records in Chicago arrived in the capital region early Wednesday, forcing federal offices in Washington and school districts around the area to close -- hence the play on "sequester," the forced spending cuts making the rounds in government.
The electricity was going out in places, too, thanks to the wet, heavy snow downing trees and power lines.
More than 241,000 homes and businesses had no power -- most of them in Virginia and West Virginia, but also in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Ohio, according to utilities.
Washington could see a crippling 10 inches of snow, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said. Snow totals could exceed a foot west of the city, while some places in northern Virginia and West Virginia could see as much as 30 inches, he said.
Air travel will likely be snarled all day. Airlines in the Northeast have canceled hundreds of flights, leaving passengers like Alex Thompson, who had hoped to take a flight to San Francisco, with plenty of time on their hands.
Thompson had traveled all the way from Kenya only to find that his next flight was one of hundreds called off until Thursday due to the storm.
With no hotel reservations and nowhere else to go, he said he'd find a place to sack out in the airport and "waste my time until I can get on my flight."
The storm prompted the federal government to close offices in the nation's capital, but emergency workers and telecommuters will be expected to be on duty, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
The White House canceled a planned celebration for the Alabama Crimson Tide, college football champions, and Congress called off several hearings.
More than 954,000 students who attend major school districts in Washington, Virginia, Maryland and Ohio will get a day to play in the snow.
In addition to snow in New York, Boston and elsewhere, the storm could bring 40 mph to 60 mph winds, hurricane-force gusts and the threat of flooding to coastal communities, CNN's Hennen said.
The National Weather Service issued coastal flood warnings for parts of New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
Officials in parts of New Jersey suggested residents evacuate from flood-prone areas along the coast, including areas still recovering from damage done by Hurricane Sandy in October, according to CNN affiliate WABC.
The storm earlier dumped about a foot of snow in parts of Illinois, Minnesota and North Dakota, and paved a white swath across the Upper Midwest.
Chicago's O'Hare International Airport had 6 inches of snow Tuesday, besting a 1999 record for the date by 2.2 inches. It was the first snowfall of 6-inches or more in the Windy City since February of 2011, the weather service said.
Plows removed snow from roads and trucks spread salt and sand, but drivers still slipped off of roadways, leaving snow-covered cars to be retrieved by tow trucks.
Tuesday's snow put a drag on air traffic in the Midwest, leading to delays and cancellations, but planes continued to fly in Columbus, Ohio, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, after plows slung the snow from runways.
O'Hare canceled 900 flights Tuesday, while Chicago's other major airport, Midway, canceled 240 flights, according to the city's aviation department.
CNN's Shannon Travis, Devon Sayers, Mariano Castillo, Dana Ford, Phil Gast and Joe Johns contributed to this report