A storm plastered the East Coast with snow and ice Friday, turning roads into toboggan runs that sent cars sliding and forced the closing of schools from Virginia to Connecticut and early shutdowns for some businesses.

Forecasters said the storm promised to be one of the messiest in two years because the snow was turning into sleet and freezing rain."It's going to be a long, drawn-out and very wet storm," said William Jacquemin, a meteorologist at the Techni-Weather Center in Danbury, Conn. "With the cold rain coming later, we expect it to be quite messy."

The storm was caused by low-level moisture rushing up from the Gulf of Mexico combined with a low pressure system off the Atlantic Coast and a cold front dipping down from Canada, the National Weather Service said. At the southern end of the system, Florida was drenched. Cabbage Grove, in northeastern Florida, got 8.65 inches late Thursday and Friday morning.

Slippery roads forced schools to close or send youngsters home early in parts of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York state and in Illinois.

For some counties in West Virginia's hilly Eastern Panhandle, it was the fourth day this week that classes had to be canceled because of snow and sleet.

"Yesterday was the only day when the roads had melted enough for us to try to have school," said Marshall Mason, a Berkeley County school administrator. Martinsburg in Berkeley County, 60 miles west of Washington, got up to 8 inches before the snow turned to sleet.

The Washington area got 2 to 3 inches of snow before it turned to sleet and freezing rain.