NEW YORK (AP) — Schools closed, planes were grounded and even President Barack Obama’s travel plans were complicated Wednesday in an all-too-familiar routine along the U.S. East Coast as another snowstorm swept over a region already beaten down by a winter not even half over.
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, 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.
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 (50 centimeters) on the city and paralyzed travel after Christmas.
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 Wisconsin. 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.
Up to 14 inches (35 centimeters) 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.
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.
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 (25 centimeters) of snow.
Officials urged residents in Washington and Maryland to stay off the roads as snow, thunder and lightning pounded the Mid-Atlantic region. In Washington, 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.
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.
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.