Florida has seen its first snowfall in three decades as a rare winter storm hit the southeast of the US on Wednesday.

The weather office in the sunshine state's capital Tallahassee measured 0.25cm (0.1ins) of snow on its roof, marking the first time it had experienced the white stuff since 1989.

Plenty of excited locals – including the police force – took to Twitter to share pictures and videos of the exceptionally rare conditions.

Five to eight centimetres (2-3ins) of snow were expected in northeast Florida, where there have been warnings of icy roads, power cuts and freezing temperatures.

Warming shelters have been opened for residents and many flights out of Tallahassee Airport have been cancelled, with water attractions at a number of Florida's popular theme parks closed.

The Governors of Georgia and North Carolina, meanwhile, joined their Florida counterpart in declaring a state of emergency, with at least 17 deaths across the US so far blamed on the record-breaking cold snap.

In Rosevile, Michigan, police revealed that a 96-year-old woman suffering from dementia had been found dead in a playground, having apparently frozen to death after wandering outside in a robe and slippers.

Earlier this week, a homeless man was found dead on a porch in Charleston, West Virginia, and another man was found dead outside a church in Detroit, Michigan. Both may have frozen to death.

Blizzard warnings remain in place from Virginia to Maine, with areas around Boston braced for about a foot of snow on Thursday due to the so-called "bomb cyclone" effect – when pressure falls very fast as a storm strengthens.

Boston mayor Marty Walsh ordered schools to close on Thursday and warned residents: "Both rush hours will be affected. Be patient.

"With the amount of snow we're getting here, we could be ploughing your street and half an hour later it could look like we haven't been there."

Image:Women take a selfie in front of a frozen fountain in Bryant Park, Manhattan

The city broke a 100-year record on Tuesday with seven consecutive days of temperatures no higher than -6.7C, and Chicago also set a new low for New Year's Day, with temperatures not getting above -17C.

In Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday, the conditions closed carriage horse tour companies and in nearby Mount Pleasant residents headed to grocery stores in droves to stock up on food and supplies.

People wrap up against the cold in Times Square
Image:People wrap up against the cold in Times Square

Parts of Texas, including Dallas, Houston and Austin, have also been below zero this week, and forecasters at the National Weather Service say New York City can expect between 5-10cm (2-4ins) of snow.

Southeast Maine could see up to 38cm (15ins).

Pedestrians are warned away from the lakefront in Chicago, Illinois
Image:Pedestrians are warned away from the lakefront in Chicago, Illinois

Savannah in Georgia has already been blanketed in snow – its first in nearly eight years – and the coastal city airport has been closed.

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More than 2,000 flights have been cancelled across Savannah, Charleston and elsewhere because of the conditions.

But North Carolina Zoo in the state's city of Asheboro has tried to make the most of the weather by offering discounted tickets to those keen to brave the cold and see polar bears, Arctic foxes and elk frolicking in their ideal conditions.

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