Spring snow leads to slick morning commute, closed schools

March 25, 2013

A spring snowstorm blanketed parts of the Washington area Monday morning, closing schools and making roads treacherous for commuters.

The snow-slicked landscape was more reminiscent of midwinter than early spring, and it caught many residents by surprise after previous predictions of heavy snowfall this winter failed to materialize. But the widespread power outages that accompanied past storms were not a problem in the region Monday, with only scattered outages reported.

The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang predicted that the steadiest “boom” of snow would fall before 10 a.m., particularly north and west of the District. One to three inches of heavy, wet snow have already fallen on the region, with temperatures hovering between 32 and 34 degrees.

The National Weather Service forecast snow and rain Monday afternoon in the greater Washington metropolitan area, with “little or no additional snow accumulation” and high temperatures in the upper 30s. It said there was “a chance of rain and snow in the evening.”

While the scene outside may look like a winter wonderland, the unseasonable weather was causing problems on roadways. Wet roads combined with low visibility made for a slow, potentially dangerous morning commute, and drivers were urged to use caution.

Two men died and two others were injured Monday morning in a crash in the Glenn Dale area of Prince George’s County, authorities said. They said the incident occurred about 8 a.m. in the 10000 block of Lanham Severn Road, just past Greenbelt Road and the Eastgate Shopping Center.

Nicole Hubbard, a Prince George’s County police spokeswoman, said a Honda passenger car traveling east apparently tried to make a left turn, pulling in front of an Audi headed west. The Audi collided with the Honda’s passenger side, she said.

Four men were taken to the hospital: the driver and two passengers in the Honda and the driver of the Audi. Both of the Honda’s passengers later died, authorities said. The drivers of the Honda and the Audi were hospitalized with injuries that were not believed to be life-threatening.

By early afternoon, police were still investigating the crash and trying to determine what role, if any, was played by weather conditions.

Mark Brady, a Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department spokesman, said there were a number of snow-related incidents Monday morning. He said firefighters had “been busy with crashes, wires down, slips and falls, things of that nature,” especially in the northern section of Prince George’s.

Although it was a heavy, wet snow of the sort that brings down tree limbs and power lines, regional power companies were reporting only scattered outages at 9 a.m. affecting about 3,500 customers combined.

By early afternoon, power had been restored to most of those who lost it. Dominion Virginia Power said just 547 Northern Virginia customers were without power at 1 p.m. Pepco had fewer than two dozen without power in the District, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. Baltimore Gas and Electric, which serves outer counties in Maryland, reported fewer than 100 outages.

The snow was not expected to affect Washington’s renowned cherry blossoms, the National Park Service said.

“The good thing is we did get a cold snap,” said Carol Johnson, a park service spokeswoman. “So the blossoms aren’t out, which means that the snow wont knock the blossoms off.” She said the park service is sticking with its latest peak bloom prediction period.

“Right now it’s still April 3 through 6,” Johnson said. “It’s really very, very hard to predict.”

Early Monday morning near Dulles International Airport, a layer of snow covered the toll road, obscuring lane markers. Heavy snowfall contributed to treacherous driving conditions, limiting visibility and reducing speeds in some places to 20 mph.

Travel along Interstate 66 near Falls Church was also sluggish during the morning rush hour, but conditions improved as roadways became clearer near downtown Washington.

Nick Peters made the daily commute from his home in Severna Park to his office in downtown D.C., a distance of about 40 miles, without much difficulty.

“It’s not really that bad,” Peters said. “We had at least an inch or two in Severna Park. Route 50 out near Annapolis was a problem. You couldn’t see the white lines. But once I got into the District, it wasn’t much. The biggest problem was idiots in their SUVs doing 65 mph in the right lane on Route 50, when everyone else was going 45.”

In McLean, Drucie Andersen looked out on 3 1/2 inches of snow that had accumulated on her deck by 8 a.m., and the snow was still falling with the intensity of a midwinter blizzard.

“It’s snowing on our daffodils,” Andersen said. “It’s still pretty coming down pretty strong.”

It was a bit of a shock, she said, to see genuine snowfall after a winter when several forecast storms never amounted to much.

“Every time they predicted this winter, it’s never occurred,” she said, “so this is really something.”

In the District, Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said, about 175 people braved the snowfall to wait outside the Supreme Court for admission to Tuesday’s oral arguments on same-sex marriage — a case that has attracted intense public interest and and long lines days ahead of the event. About 25 people waited in a separate line that began to form Friday for lawyers who are members of the Supreme Court bar, she said.

The District’s Public Works Department said it would not sweep city streets Monday due to the weather. It said bulk trash pickups scheduled for Monday were rescheduled for Friday, but that normal residential trash collection would continue.

In Middleburg, Va., Jennifer McCloud woke up Monday and said, “Wow!” when she saw perhaps five inches of snow covering Chrysalis Vineyards, which she owns. She had not been expecting so much, but she was delighted.

“I grew up in Florida, so seeing the beauty of snow in the rolling Virginia countryside has not lost its appeal,” she said. Plus, she works at home on the farm. “I don’t have to slog into town and deal with the slush and the mush.”

She said she wasn’t worried about her vines; in fact, the snow would probably help them, adding to the aquifers and groundwater and, most importantly, keeping the plants cold and dormant.

Across the Washington region, meanwhile, several school systems and local governments announced delays or closings due to the weather conditions.

In Virginia, public schools closed on Monday included Culpeper, Frederick, Orange, Prince William, Shenandoah, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Warren and Winchester counties. Schools in King George County were delayed two hours. Fairfax County schools are on spring break; programs and activities were two hours late, and offices opened on time. Loudoun County schools are also on spring break this week, although administrative offices opened on time.

In Maryland, public schools in Anne Arundel and Frederick counties were among those that closed. Schools in Calvert, Charles, Howard and Prince George’s counties were delayed two hours.

Prince George’s County Public schools said that while schools and offices were operating under a two-hour delay, emergency personnel must report to work on time. The county’s school system later announced that all afternoon and evening activities were canceled.

Montgomery County schools are closed for spring break; officials aid no transportation would be provided for special education programs.

In Virginia, Fauquier County government offices opened two hours late. Manassas government offices were open with liberal leave.

In Maryland, Frederick and Howard counties and the City of Bowie were open with liberal leave.

For other closings and cancellations, go to bit.ly/WaPoClosings or check your school’s Web site.

To list your closings, go to cancellations.com.

For the latest forecast, plus driving and safety tips for snowy weather, go to washingtonpost.com/local/weather/disaster.

William Branigin, Mike DeBonis, Matt Zapotosky, Susan Svrluga, Ovetta Wiggins, Michael E. Ruane and Robert Barnes contributed to this report.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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