By 4 a.m. ET Friday, the second blow of this snowy double punch was already affecting transport.
More than 1,200 flights into or out of U.S. airports were canceled for the day and there were hundreds of delays, according to FlightAware. These came after more than 6,500 U.S. cancellations Thursday and were mostly distributed among the New York and Washington hubs, as well as airports in Boston, the Virginias and Carolinas.
New York-area commuter rail service Metro-North said it was running the equivalent of its Saturday service on Friday, which is about 40 percent of full capacity.
(Read more: Bill Nye on polarvortex: Weather of the future?)
"Hundreds of employees are working through the night to clear snow from station staircases and outdoor platforms, but the additional snow accumulating overnight may present challenging conditions for customers during the morning commute," New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority said in a statement late Thursday. "All customers are advised to use extreme caution, hold handrails and stay away from the platform edge for safety."
The region was still reeling from Thursday's first dose of the storm, which stretched from Texas to New England. It also left snow on the ground in 49 of the 50 states and left half a million homes and businesses without power in Georgia and the Carolinas.
The Weather Channel's Palmer predicted some rural areas in South Carolina - the worst-affected state - would not be back on the electricity grid for three days due to thick ice which downed trees and power lines.
While the second punch of the system affecting the Northeast was expected to be over Canada's Maritimes by sunset, this second system from Ohio is expected to hit New England on Saturday and dump another five to eight inches of snow.
(Read more: 'Frozenomics' and the housing market)
Thursday's heaviest snow fell in Pilot, Va., which saw a 28.5 inches throughout the day, according to the National Weather Service.
Totals were more modest in metropolitan areas: New York City's Central Park saw 9 1/2 inches, Philadelphia International Airport got almost 10 inches, and Baltimore-Washington International Airport was buried under more than a foot.
The 18 deaths already blamed on the severe weather looked to have risen late Thursday after three men died while shovelling snow in Baltimore, The Baltimore Sun reported.
The second wave expected to hit early Friday looked far less severe, adding another two to five inches from D.C. to New York and more further north.
Many schools across the region were closed for Friday as several states, including New York and New Jersey, declared states of emergency.
In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy declared a state of emergency due to a salt shortage, NBC Connecticut reported. The state only has enough salt for one storm, and with another possible snow dump on its way from a system coming in from the Ohio valley the governor said he had asked White House and FEMA for additional supplies.
—By Alexander Smith of NBC News. Erik Ortiz and Jeff Black of NBC News contributed to this report.