Oh hell, not again: Another snowstorm heads for East Coast

A snowball fight breaks out at Dupont Circle in Washington in the still-falling snow, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Monsivais)

Schools closed, governments sent workers home early and planes were grounded Wednesday in an all-too-familiar routine along the East Coast as another snowstorm swept over a region already beaten down by a winter not even half over.

“I fell three times trying to get off the steps,” commuter Elliott Self said after leaving an elevated train in Philadelphia. “I just want the snow to stop. I want the sun again. I want to feel just a little bit of warmth.”

Millions of people got that oh-no-not-again feeling as the wet and sloppy storm engulfed the Northeast, where snowbanks in some places were already so high that drivers couldn’t see around corners. In Washington, D.C., hundreds of thousands of customers lost electricity, as heavy snow toppled power lines.

Classes were called off and commutes were snarled from Tennessee to New England as cars and buses slipped and slid on highways. The New York area’s three major airports, among the nation’s busiest, saw more than 1,000 flights canceled. Pedestrians struggled across icy patches that were on their way to becoming deep drifts.

In Pennsylvania, residents hunkered down as a one-two punch of a winter storm brought snow, sleet, freezing rain and then more snow, which forecasters said could total a foot in some areas. Philadelphia declared a snow emergency as of Wednesday evening, ordering cars removed from emergency routes. Late Wednesday, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority temporarily suspended service on all city and suburban Philadelphia bus routes.

Northwest, in Hatfield Township, Pa., residents were scared by thunder claps and blinding lightning in a rare thundersnow, a thunderstorm with heavy snow instead of rain.

Eight to 14 inches of snow was forecast for New York City, which had already seen 36 inches of snow this season in comparison with the full-winter average of 21 inches. New Jersey also was looking at up to a foot of snow, and high winds were expected before the storm moves out early Thursday.

Rain drenched the nation’s capital for most of the day and changed to sleet before it started snowing in earnest at midafternoon. Washington was expected to get up to 10 inches of snow.

The snow and icy roads created hazardous conditions for President Barack Obama as he returned to the White House on Wednesday after a post-State of the Union trip to Manitowoc, Wis. The wintry weather grounded Marine One, the helicopter that typically transports Obama to and from the military base where Air Force One lands. Instead, Obama was met at the plane by his motorcade, which spent an hour weaving through rush hour traffic already slowed by the storm. It normally takes the president’s motorcade about 20 minutes to travel between the base and the White House.

In suburban Silver Spring, Md., nurse Tiffany Horairy said as she waited for a bus that she was getting tired of the constant pecking of minor or moderate storms.

“I’d rather get something like last year, with all the snow at once,” she said.

Officials urged residents in Washington and Maryland to stay off the roads as snow, thunder and lightning pounded the Mid-Atlantic region. In D.C., Metro transit officials pulled buses off the roads as conditions deteriorated. Firefighters warned the heavy snow was bringing down power lines and causing outages.

About 200,000 customers lost power, about half as many as in July, when a powerful line of thunderstorms moved through the area.

In Baltimore, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake activated the city’s emergency operations center to monitor conditions. The National Weather Service reported that Baltimore received 8 inches of snow in the 24-hour period ending 7:24 p.m. Wednesday.

Conditions deteriorated rapidly during the evening rush hour in Baltimore, tripling the length of commuters’ drives. Visibility was reduced to less than a city block and North Charles Street, the city’s main north-south artery, was littered in one block with three MTA buses stuck on a hill and blocking traffic in both directions. Downed power lines disrupted rail travel.

Since Dec. 14, snow has fallen eight times on the New York region — or an average of about once every five days. That includes the blizzard that dropped 20 inches on the city and paralyzed travel after Christmas.

Some places are running out of room to stash plowed snow.

Portsmouth, N.H., hauls its snow out to Peirce Island, but it was nearly full, with a huge mountain of the stuff.

“We probably have a five-story snow dump right now,” said Portsmouth public works director David Allen. “It’s time to get a lift up on it and we could probably do a ski run.”

For days, forecasters had been predicting rain, freezing rain or deep snow along the East Coast, but they weren’t quite sure who would get what. That unpredictability continued playing out as the storm swept from middle Appalachia into the Northeast.

In New Jersey, state workers were sent home early and schools closed as the storm brought more snow than anticipated Wednesday morning. A second band of snow began falling in the evening. The NJ Transit agency allowed customers to use bus tickets for rail travel, and vice versa, to get home any way they could.

In suburban Philadelphia’s Phoenixville, a delayed decision to call off classes angered parents when dozens of students got stranded at school. Eighty-seven buses had to be redirected to take students back home.

Parents and teachers in Tennessee were concerned about yet another day off from school Wednesday. Angela Wilburn, who teaches eighth grade at McMurray Middle School in Nashville, said students had missed eight days so far this year, pushing back her teaching schedule and making it difficult to keep kids focused. She was worried about a writing test scheduled for February.

“The writing assessment counts toward No Child Left Behind,” she said. “It affects the whole school.”

New York City declared a weather emergency for the second time since the Dec. 26 storm, which trapped hundreds of buses and ambulances and caused a political crisis for the mayor. An emergency declaration means any car blocking roads or impeding snowplows can be towed at the owner’s expense.

Sanitation Department crews had more than 2,000 pieces of equipment, including salt spreaders, snow plows and front-end loaders, out overnight to clear New York City streets in time for the morning rush hour. Spokesman Vito Turso said that with snow falling at a rate of 1 to 2 inches an hour, trucks have had to go back and re-plow streets.

In the suburbs, a pickup truck plowing a snow-covered parking lot struck and killed a Long Island woman Wednesday afternoon, police said.

In Kentucky, where several inches of snow fell, a man who lost control of his pickup truck on an ice-covered road and got out of it was hit and killed by another truck that lost control on the same patch.

Numerous vehicles were disabled or abandoned across northern Delaware, and dozens of crashes were reported.

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Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Frank Eltman in Garden City, N.Y.; Ula Ilnytzky in New York; Lynne Tuohy in Concord, N.H.; Dave Collins in Hartford, Conn.; Angie Yack, Erin Vanderberg and Patrick Walters in Philadelphia; and Sarah Brumfeld in Silver Spring, Md.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

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