Snow slows down traffic on Interstate 40, Friday morning, Jan. 22, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. A blizzard menacing the Eastern United States started dumping snow in Virginia, Tennessee and other parts of the South on Friday as millions of people in the storm's path prepared for icy roads, possible power outages and other treacherous conditions. (Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean via AP)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A winter storm hit Nashville earlier than expected on Friday morning, catching many people off guard and causing gridlock on the interstates.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency declared a state of emergency on Thursday afternoon in anticipation of the coming storm, but TEMA spokesman Dean Flener said it caught even him by surprise. Speaking from his car on Friday morning, Flener said he had been stuck on Interstate-40 for two hours on his way into the office.

Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Bill Miller said there were crashes reported across the state but the highway patrol was not working any fatal accidents.

"In the Nashville area many of the interstates are pure gridlock with the area around downtown just totally shut down," Miller said.

Meanwhile, state offices across Tennessee were closed, warming stations were open, and the Red Cross had shelters on standby near the interstates.

Josh Booker and his fiancee brought their suitcases with them to work Friday morning. They work at a Nashville Waffle House and Booker said the restaurant was putting up employees at a nearby hotel in order to keep the business open 24 hours a day.

He said the restaurant should have put them up Thursday night as well because he had a tough time getting in to work on Friday morning. His car eventually got stuck at an intersection just outside the restaurant, but he said about eight people came out and pushed him into the parking lot.

A few miles away, Frances Davidson was walking from her apartment past a line of stopped cars to get to a convenience store at a nearby gas station.

"I only have a little food in the house," she said. "I don't think we'll be able to get out before Monday. We'll be stuck for days."

Davidson said she had planned to go shopping Thursday night but put it off until Friday morning because it was raining. When she tried to drive, the car started sliding, so she revised her plans.

"This is my first time having to walk to the store in the snow," she said.

Across the state, officials were warning residents to avoid all unnecessary travel.

Nashville had about 4 ½ inches of snow by mid-day with another 1 or 2 inches expected. Memphis saw less snow than predicted, with only about 2 inches. Further north and west of the cities, snow had reached 7 and 8 inches. Meteorologists said the storm was moving east with up to 6 inches of snow predicted for the central valley and as much as 10 inches in the far northeast corner of the state. Up to 15 inches were possible at the highest peaks.

At an apartment complex in downtown Memphis Friday morning, Danielle Aldridge was using a plastic kitchen cutting board to remove ice from her windshield.

"It worked better than I thought it would, but it's not perfect," she said.

Aldridge said she works as a nurse at a family practice clinic in the Midtown neighborhood. Unlike government offices and many private businesses in the city, the clinic was open Friday.

"Sick people will come in today," she said. "That's part of the deal. Like the post office - rain or shine or sleet or snow, I will take care of my patients."