A winter storm blanketed the Northeast on Thursday, forcing the federal government and schools around the region to close early and triggering a spate of accidents during the afternoon rush hour.

The snow coated an area that included Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and New York, and was expected to move north later in the day. Several cities reported accumulations of about 6 inches, and some were bracing for up to 9 inches.

"This is truly a statewide storm," said David Buck, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration (search). "We have folks across the state working."

In New Jersey, trains were unusually crowded and passengers slipped on unshoveled platforms. Planes were reported delayed by up to two hours at Newark airport. Several accidents reduced traffic on New Jersey's clogged roads to a crawl.

Standing outside a New Jersey convenience store, Taylor Matthews saw the first few flakes fall and said she could not believe it.

"It's 60 degrees in January and we hardly have any snow all winter, and now it seems to come every other day," said Matthews.

The forecast amounts would push 2004-05 snowfall totals past the seasonal average in most places in New Jersey.

Drivers in the nation's capital found mostly wet road conditions as pavement temperatures hovered just above freezing most of the day. The federal government closed two hours early.

About 1,500 road crews in Maryland were salting the roads.

"The longest and most challenging part is still ahead of us now" as temperatures were expected to fall into the 20s Thursday evening, Buck said.

Snowy roads contributed to a fatal accident in Maryland after a driver lost control of his car and slid into the path of an oncoming tractor trailer. Nearly 60 traffic accidents had been reported across Delaware by late afternoon, but none resulted in more than minor injuries.