Snowfall brings D.C. region to standstill, again

The latest dose of winter weather put the clamps on Washington on Monday, and the impact of several inches of snow and ice spilled into Tuesday, with many schools closed or delaying opening and a region of 9 million people lurching into the workweek a day late.

Plows and salt trucks would work through the night in an attempt to clear roadways by morning, officials said. But school officials who feared sending their buses out on slick roads announced Monday that schools would remain closed for a second day, including in Prince George’s, Montgomery, Arlington, Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William counties.

The prospect of record cold overnight and subfreezing temperatures through Wednesday gave little hope that the forecast bright sunshine would melt much, if anything.

“Lows may drop to near zero in our colder suburbs to around 10 degrees downtown,” said Jason Samenow of The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang. “This extreme cold means any slushy snow will freeze like a rock and untreated roads and sidewalks will turn icy.” Snow totals ranged from 2.5 to 8 inches.

The Capital Weather Gang said the lowest March temperatures in decades were likely overnight, leading to concerns about icy conditions Tuesday.

With the government closed, D.C. residents explored the snow Monday, some hoping it will be the last storm of the season. (Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

The storm had spread across the breadth of the nation in the past several days, causing more havoc for airlines that already had canceled 108,600 flights this winter, twice as many as normal.

Kathleen Kufel and daughter Jennifer were looking at the prospect of sleeping at Reagan National Airport on Monday night after their flight home to Detroit was canceled. They booked the first flight Tuesday morning, setting up camp in two rocking chairs in a quiet corner of Terminal A with a view of the runways.

“It was a great weekend,” said Kathleen, who was on her first trip to the nation’s capital.

If schools, jobs and travel were the major disruptions of a snowy day, few of the smaller things got done, either. Meetings and events were canceled, trash was not collected, and packages and mail went undelivered.

“It’s been very bad,” said Gu-Chen Shen, a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier in Fairfax County who trudged through the snow with several bundles of mail, only to find that the offices it was destined for were closed.

“I already have two boxes full” of mail that would go back to the post office for delivery later, he said.

At least one weather-related death was reported, in Maryland. Authorities said a 60-year-old Bowie woman died Monday after she likely suffered a heart attack while shoveling snow.

The woman had been out shortly after the snow stopped, Prince George’s Fire/EMS Department spokesman Mark Brady said. She was taken to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Officials are waiting on a report from medical examiners to determine the official cause of death.

“It’s unfortunate, but shoveling snow is known to cause heart attacks,” Brady said.

In the century before the advent of air conditioning, Washington was known as a town that moved in slow motion during the steamy summer months. This season it is winter that has slowed it to a crawl, repeatedly shutting the region down with bouts of snow and ice that have closed schools and brought most business to a halt. Too far north to escape the winter yet too far south to make investment in massive snow-removal capacity prudent, Washington simply suffers in winters such as this one and the infamous 2009-10 season, when several feet of snow fell.

There have been other years — the winters of 1997-98 and 1972-73, for instance — when no more than a dusting has fallen.

With ample forewarning, most of the region’s schools, businesses and governments stayed closed Monday. Service for several suburban bus systems and Metrobus was suspended, though the subway system continued to operate.

Metro announced late Monday that its buses would begin Tuesday on a severe snow plan with limited service, operating on only the busiest parts of the busiest routes..

Metrorail was slated to run normal service, and MetroAccess, the service for riders with disabilities, was to resume at noon.

As the snow ended and many people ventured out onto the roads, several saw the same dashboard warning light — they needed wiper fluid.

“That blue water is just selling like crazy right now,” said Edgar Pineda, the manager of Advance Auto Parts in Kensington. He said that he had seen at least 30 customers in the Maryland store and that most of them were looking for wiper fluid or new wiper blades. Pineda said most people replace their wiper fluid regularly but may have run out sooner than usual because their wipers have been working hard through so many snowstorms this year.

As the snow abated, a group of snow-kiters took to the windy expanse of the grounds of the Washington Monument.

Clad in goggles and wearing skis or snowboards, they raced across the surface of the snow pulled by huge, colorful kites.

“It’s like kite surfing on the water,” Lon Phan, 46, a Silver Spring scientist, as he prepared to make a run.

Conditions were good: Smooth surface. Decent amount of space. Stiff wind.

“This is once every four years here, when we get just the right condition of snow and wind,” Phan said.

Plunging temperatures had one benefit: They created a light, fluffy snow less likely to bring down power lines. Dominion Power was reporting fewer than 200 outages in Northern Virginia by nightfall, and north of the Potomac River there were no more than a handful.

Outside the White House, a handful of hardy tourists braved the storm to get a glimpse of the executive mansion shrouded in snow and take a snapshot.

Giorgio Barbieri, 46, of Verona, Italy, was there at midmorning with his wife, Cinzia, 41, and daughter, Chiara, 18, as a fierce wind blew snow across Pennsylvania Avenue.

Asked why they were out in the storm, Barbieri laughed and said, “We don’t know why!”

“But it’s very exciting to be in Washington in the snow,” he said. “We think it’s one experience that will be very difficult to repeat in the future.”

Bill Turque, Lynh Bui, Michael Ruane, Susan Svrluga, Patricia Sullivan, Patrick Svitek, Paul Duggan, Antonio Olivo, Michael Rosenwald, Lori Aratani, Matt Zapotosky, Michael A. Chandler, T. Rees Shapiro, Justin Jouvenal, Ovetta Wiggins, Julie Zauzmer and DeNeen L. Brown contributed to this report.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
Dana Hedgpeth is the Washington Post’s lead reporter in covering the Metro rail and bus systems in the D.C. region and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) that runs them.
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