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."
(Read more: Propane shortage may leave millions in US shivering)
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 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.
(Watch: Winter storm heats up natural gas)
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, while the Philadelphia Flyers postponed their Tuesday night hockey game.
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.