A swirling storm with the potential for more than a foot of snow clobbered the mid-Atlantic and the urban Northeast on Tuesday, grounding thousands of flights, closing government offices in the nation's capital and giving students another day off from school.
The storm stretched 1,000 miles between Kentucky and Massachusetts but was expected to hit hardest along the heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor between Philadelphia and Boston, creating a perilous commute home for millions of motorists.
It was blamed for at least one death in Maryland after a car fishtailed into the path of a tractor-trailer on a snow-covered road about 50 miles northwest of Baltimore. The car's driver was thrown from the vehicle.
In Campbelltown, Pa., Ralph Duquette kept close tabs on the weather because his wife needed to go to Washington's Dulles Airport for a flight to London. But those plans were thrown into doubt when an 18-wheeler went into a ditch, hindering her route to the airport.
She was trying instead to get a flight out of Newark, N.J., but Duquette added: “Don't think she's going to get there.”
Forecasters said the storm could bring 10 to 14 inches of snow to Philadelphia and southern New England and up to a foot in New York City, to be followed by bitter cold as arctic air from Canada streams in. Washington was expecting 4 to 8 inches snow.
This one was a conventional storm that developed off the coast and moved its way up the Eastern Seaboard, pulling in cold air from the arctic. Unlike the big snowstorm and the epic freeze of two weeks ago, it was not caused by a kink in the polar vortex, the winds that circulate around the North Pole.
Pennsylvania's Transportation Department said it had already blown through more than half of its $189 million winter weather budget.
“Lots of nuisance storms this season have meant that PennDOT crews have been plowing and treating roads more frequently this winter,” spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt said.
Nearly 3,000 flights Tuesday were canceled, with airports from Washington to Boston affected. An additional 885 flights for Wednesday were called off as well. Amtrak planned to cut back train service in the afternoon.
The rush to get home early by many workers was evident in Philadelphia, where many commuter trains were packed.
The storm put a damper on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's inauguration, forcing the cancellation of an evening party on Ellis Island. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick postponed his annual State of the State address.
Standing in Philadelphia's LOVE Park with snow swirling around her, visitor Jenn Byrne of Portland, Ore., said the nasty weather put a crimp in her plans to do a “giant walking tour” of the city. But she vowed to soldier on, taking cabs instead of trudging. She wasn't wearing snow boots.
“I'll keep going. Just the means of transportation will change a bit,” Byrne said.
Others shrugged off the snow as well.
In Herndon, Va., where voters were casting ballots in a special election that was likely to determine control of the state Senate, Earlene Coleman said she felt obligated to make her selection: “It only made sense to come out and do my duty.”
Construction worker Tony Cockrell, stopping for coffee at a Hagerstown, Md., gas station, said he planned to continue driving to work sites in western Maryland and northern Virginia to supervise the installation of insulation in building projects.
“If you don't work, you don't get paid,” he said, adding that deep cold is good for business. “We're trying to get stuff insulated so it doesn't freeze up.”
Schools in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky stayed closed for an extra day after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, or sent students home early. Some parents kept their kids home all day, unwilling to put them on slippery roads for a few hours of school.
With federal workers given the day off, Tom Ripley, who works at a Washington hardware store, said his morning commute was cut in half because “there was almost no one on the road.” He said the store was jammed Monday as customers stocked up on ice melt and shovels.
“Nobody prepares because we never get any snow, so the slightest chance of it, everybody freaks out,” Ripley said.