March snow hits winter-weary region, closes federal government and many schools

One of the heaviest late-season snowfalls on record shut down much of the Washington region Monday, pushing winter beyond its reasonable limits and well past the tolerance of most people who live here.

“I’m praying it’s all over after this one,” Carin Read of Lusby said as she shoveled seven inches of snow from her sidewalk and porch.

Not everyone was convinced that the latest blast in this cold, snowy season would be winter’s finale.

“I don’t even have a guess at this point,” said Frances Frost of Glenmont, whose four children missed school for the 10th time this year. “I think at this point if it snowed on Easter, I’d be like, ‘Okay. Easter bonnets and snow boots.’ ”

More than seven inches accumulated at Reagan National Airport, making it the third biggest snowfall this late in the season since 1888. The weather was forecast to warm gradually, finally reaching the seasonal norm of 58 on Friday.

See how much snowfall has hit the region.

“We predicted accumulating snow. Just not enough. Not nearly enough,” blogged Jason Samenow of The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang. “Basically, we forecast only about half the amount of snow that fell. . . . We fully recognized the arctic air feeding the storm would eventually allow accumulation, it just happened faster than we thought.”

This snow was a bit fluffier than some and a tad deeper than others, but it wasn’t much different from the rest of the snowfalls this winter. It added a fresh veneer to the snow mountains that had turned crusty and gray in mall parking lots. It was noteworthy primarily because it fell on St. Patrick’s Day, a date when the average high temperature in Washington is 56 degrees, and three days before the Cherry Blossom Festival is to begin.

The first measurable snow camel in December, and snow has fallen 15 times during the season, making this the fourth snowiest winter in 25 years, Samenow said.

“We’ve had four months of winter, where some years we only have one,” he said. “It’s the same old story: The jet stream has brought some of the coldest air in decades over the East Coast.”

That has turned those chilly rains Washington typically experiences into snow instead.

Sunday night’s snow caused many school districts and the federal government to shut down for the day. There were no major weather-related crashes reported, but there were plenty of fender benders on the slick roads.

“I don’t like snow. I hope it’s the last snow,” said Issa Mare, 40, a tailor from the Ivory Coast who was digging out his white van parked along University Boulevard in Langley Park. “I was not born in snow. I know in America we must go to work in the snow. You must work to survive.”

At Lori McKeever’s blueberry farm and vineyard in Lucketts, in western Loudoun County, the snow looked beautiful. With tractors and four-wheel drive and no animals to tend to, she wasn’t worried about the farm. But she was anxious about how the snow might affect her other business, the one that helps support the farm: her Irish pub.

“This is our big day,” she said as she headed out the door wearing a Guinness shirt and green pants. “This is the one that helps pay the rent for the month.”

She was worried that people would stay home instead of going out to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and that employees might not be able to get to the McLean pub because of the snow.

“It’s usually just crazy busy all day,” said McKeever, who is Irish. “I’ve been there for coming up on 40 years, and I’ve never seen this before.”

With schools and many businesses closed, most of those who were out in Old Town Manassas were wielding a shovel or pushing a snowblower.

“I am sick of it,” said Mike Freeland, 32, who added that this winter is the coldest he has experienced.

Freeland woke up early to shovel his own driveway, then headed to Bull Run Unitarian Universalist Church, where he chairs the facilities committee. He has had to bring out the snowblower about five times this winter.

The church’s last snowblower was stolen from the building. “Somebody must have needed it worse than I do,” Freeland said.

A congregant donated a replacement. “Every time it snows again, I have to go give the guy who donated this a big hug,” Freeland said.

Around the corner, Nick Kowa­lewski was shoveling the sidewalk in front of Okra’s, where he is the general manager. The restaurant wouldn’t be open until dinner, but Kowalewski had almost finished clearing the sidewalk by 9:30 a.m.

Opening in the snow wouldn’t pay off, he said. He has learned from experience this winter. “We opened for one of them, and we didn’t get anyone at all.”

Foster’s Grille, another Old Town restaurant, had posted signs telling patrons to use an alternate door. Its glass-and-metal front door was blown off its hinges by strong winds last week.

Eve Borner, Foster’s general manager, looked around at the shamrock decorations and the green cakes and cookies ready to be baked and bemoaned the timing of the storm.

“It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and people will stay home instead of coming out and eating and drinking,” said Borner, adding that she loves snow. “People here get freaked out so easily. Nobody’s around right now.”

Ingrid Hass, a Greenbelt mother of two, scheduled another sledding play date with a few other families near her son’s elementary school.

“We want to take advantage of the last hoopla of snow,” she said. “But then again, we said that last time.”

Hass’s only concern is how the snow makeup days will her affect her daily routine in early June, when school was originally scheduled to be finished.

“They’ll probably be in school most of the summer the way things are going, but I guess we’ll deal with that when it comes,” she said.

While many see misery in yet another blanket of snow covering sidewalks, driveways and parking lots, others see opportunity.

In Fairfax City, a crew of day laborers chatted in Spanish as they marched with shovels in hand through unplowed streets to ask homeowners and the few businesses open if they needed their walks shoveled.

“We’ve been at this for six hours already,” Oscar Alfaro said.

“While everyone else is sleeping, we’re out here working,” Pedro Lopez chimed in proudly.

The men — from El Salvador, Guatemala and other Latin American countries — said they had earned $10 here, $20 there, and were hoping to squeeze as much as possible out of this latest storm.

“Work is always scarce, and we have families to provide for,” said Alfaro, who arrived from El Salvador nearly 20 years ago.

And for some, snow provided both work and pleasure.

Vanessa Gordon-Watson, 55, is a plow driver in Prince George’s County. Her route includes Brink­ley Road, Temple Hills Road, Allentown Road, Bock Road and Tucker Road.

“When I hear it’s going to snow, I call my mother and say, ‘Mom, it’s about to snow!’ ” she said. “She hates to see it snow, but I get excited because I like to work around the clock.”

Gordon-Watson has been plowing snow in Prince George’s County for 26 years.

“This is my favorite time of the year,” she said. “When I retire, I’m moving to Ohio, where it snows all the time.”

Julie Zauzmer, Susan Svrluga, Donna St. George, Antonio Olivio, Lori Aratani and Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

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Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
I'm a Washington Post reporter, working an early morning shift that deals with crime, lottery winners, traffic, you name it.
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