The shovel forecast: Powder atop granular snow

Shoveling now, when the Capital Weather Gang is saying we’re not done with the snow and the winds are gusty? Well, it doesn’t help to take on this project in small bites. Plus, it lets me share the experience with you.

First round of shoveling
Waxing the blade made shoveling easier. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

You’re likely to encounter a top layer of powdery snow, covering a more granular layer and perhaps some ice. This core sample shows the history of our storm, starting as rain, moving to a wintry mix and developing into snow as the temperature plunged.
First, a tip from the GridSpouse, based on winters spent in New Hampshire, where they scoff at what we’re getting: Put car wax or Pam on the shovel blade and leave it outside for a while before getting to work. It will let the snow slide off the blade more easily.

The lower layer on your vehicle may be a bit more crusty, and you will need the scraper. But you probably saw worse on both sidewalk and car earlier this winter.

At this hour, snow continues to fall at an impressive rate, so some of the early sidewalk work is whited out, but I’m not discouraged. People are starting to walk about, tamping down several inches of snow on the sidewalks that remained in pristine condition. That could create an icier layer for their shovels, while we face a less burdensome task on the second round.

Here are more tips that may be helpful later Monday.

Clearing sidewalks. Rules vary, but most jurisdictions expect property owners to get out within a certain number of hours and clear their sidewalks. The District, for example, has a rule that sidewalks should be cleared of snow and ice within eight hours of the end of a storm. They don’t expect you to throw the snow in the street. When clearing driveways, toss the snow to the right. That makes it less likely the plow will push that snow back across the driveway entrance.

When clearing your own sidewalk, think about neighbors who may be elderly or disabled, and save a little energy for their walkways.

Metro doesn’t clear the bus stops or the areas around them. Metro does clear areas around rail station entrances and the above-ground platforms. Some platforms have a new type of paving tile that is less slippery, but some still have the original, slip-prone paving tiles.

Many drivers will have difficulty getting out of their neighborhoods. The initial goal for the plows working the neighborhood streets is to make them “passable.” That doesn’t mean you’ll see bare pavement soon.

If you are planning to drive to an airport in the D.C. area, be sure to check on your flight first. Many Thursday flights from Dulles, Reagan National and BWI airports have been cancelled.

Snow emergency routes. Some jurisdictions require owners to get their vehicles off snow emergency routes after the jurisdiction declares an emergency. D.C. imposed a snow emergency at 7 a.m. Monday. The Public Works Department tows vehicles remaining on those routes and imposes stiff fines.

Waiting for transit. Most of the D.C. region’s bus systems suspended service Monday. So did MetroAccess, the paratransit service. Watch for updates on restoration. This is the link to The Post’s storm updates. Metrobus’s Next Bus system, designed to provide real-time information on when the bus should arrive at your stop, doesn’t perform well during weather disruptions. So even as bus service is restored, don’t count on the accuracy of the prediction system.

However, you can sign up for Metrobus e-mail or text alerts on your routes via this link. Or check the Metrobus Twitter account, @metrobusinfo.

See the latest forecast from the Capital Weather Gang.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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Robert Thomson · February 28