NEW YORK (AP) - 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 Elliot 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."

Northwest of Philly, 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.

Throughout the day, 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.

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 airports, among the nation's busiest, saw hundreds of delayed or canceled flights. 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 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.

Eight to 12 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., Tiffany Horairy, a 43-year-old nurse, 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.

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 and said the same cross-honoring arrangement would be in effect Thursday.

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 hard 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 did not generate an emergency declaration but 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.

More than 600 flights were canceled at the New York area's three major airports - LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark Liberty. About 300 flights were canceled at the Philadelphia airport.

In a bizarre turn in New York City, a man with a head injury was found in the trunk of a BMW after the driver got into a fender-bender with a taxi in the middle of the storm, police said. The man was hospitalized in stable condition. Authorities were searching for the driver, who ran away.

On New York's Long Island, a pickup truck plowing a snow-covered parking lot struck and killed a woman Wednesday afternoon, police said. There was freezing rain at the time, and the driver apparently didn't see 64-year-old Doris Metz, of Mastic Beach, before backing into her, they said.

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

In New Haven, Conn., where some streets have lost lanes because of the snowfall and the snowbanks are making it difficult for drivers to see, the city has taken the unusual step of hauling the snow away to parking lots and the municipal maintenance yard.
 
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)