By Brendan O'Brien
Jan 3 (Reuters) - A winter storm packing heavy snow and strong winds engulfed parts of the U.S. Southeast and mid-Atlantic states on Monday, forcing federal offices and schools to close as it threatened to make travel dangerous and knock out power.
Severe weather warnings were in effect from Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia, and north into Washington and Philadelphia, where 4 to 8 inches (10-20 cm) of snow and 40 mile-per-hour (64 km-per-hour) winds were forecast, the National Weather Service said.
Some parts of the region could get 2 inches an hour and a total of a foot 1 foot (30 cm) of wet snow from the storm throughout the day, the weather service warned.
"This is not a very typical setup for us, especially this time of year for us," said Austin Mansfield, a weather service meteorologist in Virginia. "When we are talking highly populated areas, increasing accumulation of snow becomes problematic."
The inclement weather forced federal government offices to close in Washington, while dozens of schools canceled or delayed the start of school across the region.
The heavy snow was expected to accumulate on roadways and power lines, causing treacherous travel conditions and potentially leaving homes and businesses without electricity throughout the region.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a snow emergency as public transportation in the city of 700,000 people was operating at a reduced schedule.
"If travel is essential, please lower normal speeds," the Maryland Department of Transportation wrote in a Tweet. "Take your time."
Tornado and flood watches were also in effect for coastal North Carolina where heavy rains and damaging winds were expected.
Despite the weather, the public school system in North Carolina's Wake County decided to hold classes for its 150,000 students on Monday. Some questioned that decision.
"I was just in the carpool lane at Wake Forest High school and witnessed a tree fall on a car. Huge pop & sparks from the power line above us," said Twitter user Angela Carter. "This is unacceptable weather to have parents, teens & buses driving on the roads. Make better decisions!" (Reporting by Brendan O'Brien; editing by Jonathan Oatis)