Washington region faces another bout with freezing rain, sleet and 5-9 inches of snow


A sign on the door of Home Depot lets shoppers know they are out of ice melt, snow shovels and snow blowers on Sunday in Fairfax, Va. (Tom Jackman/The Washington Post)
March 2

The winter of our discontent continued apace with a blast of icy weather, and by Sunday evening, most school systems in the area had already announced Monday closings, amid the prospect that ice, sleet and heavy snow would disrupt life here once again.

Road crews that have been called upon 30 times this winter rolled out again late Sunday with the expectation that they would be at it for at least 24 hours. With subfreezing temperatures forecast through Wednesday, the snow might be plowed aside, but it wasn’t going anywhere for a while.

“Crews work to reduce the impact of the weather conditions, but it is not until it stops snowing that they can make headway and clear travel lanes,” said Melinda B. Peters, administrator of Maryland’s State Highway Administration.

Federal offices in the Washington area would be closed Monday, the Office of Personnel Management announced. D.C. government offices will also close, along with those in many suburban jurisdictions.

By 8 p.m. on Sunday, all of the public school systems for miles around had announced that they would close on Monday. These included the D.C. public schools as well as public schools in Anne Arundel, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and throughout southern Maryland.


D.C.’s snow emergency routes.

In Virginia, closings were announced for the school systems in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties, among others.

The University of Maryland and several other universities said they would be closed as well.

Metro said its buses would not run Monday morning, and MetroAccess, the service for riders with disabilities, also was canceled. The VRE rail commuter line and Maryland’s MARC rail commuter system said they will not operate.

The District and most other jurisdictions declared snow emergencies, imposing parking restrictions so that main thoroughfares could be more easily plowed. Air travel was disrupted Sunday, with hundreds of flights canceled as the storm that was about to hit Washington spread over a dozen states. More delays and cancellations were anticipated Monday.

And late Sunday, congressional aides said that all votes scheduled for Monday in both chambers would be postponed until Tuesday. All other legislative business also was canceled.

Like most of the storms that have plagued the region this winter, this one promised to be a mishmash of unpleasant elements. A cold rain at the outset was slated to morph into sleet and significant snowfall.

“An arctic cold front — responsible for record-shattering cold in the northern U.S. — steam rolls south tonight while a moisture-infused southern storm makes its approach,” Jason Samenow of The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang said Sunday. “The result is crashing temperatures, and rain changing to ice and then heavy snow. We expect five to nine inches of snow to fall across the region through Monday afternoon on top of a slick layer of sleet.” Much of the southern half of the region could get as much as 7 to 11 inches, Samenow said later.

Utility companies issued statements saying that they had marshaled forces to deal with downed power lines and cautioned that wet, heavy snow in the late season was more likely to bring them down, although there were only a handful of outages when a particularly wet snow fell last month.

Winter storms, like all adverse weather, are a petri dish for descriptive cliches, so on this one it will be noted that “March came in like a lion.” After a winter of unrelenting cold and a snarl of nasty ice and snowstorms that threw life off kilter, there were prayers that the month will complete the cliche by going out like a lamb. People are weary and annoyed with snow and winter.

“It started out as ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,’ ” said Mark Melanson, who recently relocated from the D.C. area to West Virginia. “Now it is beginning to look a lot like seasonal affective disorder.”

That’s a condition also known as winter depression or winter blues, in which stable people exhibit depressive symptoms in the winter.

Chris Kirkwood, a construction superintendent from Fairfax City buying some last-minute supplies Sunday at Home Depot in Fairfax City, said: “This is absolutely absurd. My job is virtually at a standstill. Construction is taking a beating. If I was snowboarding every day that’d be great.”

A sign taped to the window of the store noted it had no ice, shovels or snow blowers, and many shoppers out Sunday making preparations lamented that they’d run into the same problem at merchants throughout the region.

But this late in the season, many folks seemed more resigned than panicked by the prospect of more winter. “How bad is it supposed to be anyway?” asked Dina Jackson, 47, an information technology specialist who lives in Silver Spring. “I don’t prepare for snow storms around here. I’m from Chicaaaaagoooooo!”

Mike Kemp, an assistant manager at Safeway at 17th and R streets NW, said shoppers are growing blasé as winter storm after winter storm hits Washington. Whereas once a snowy forecast would have sent throngs rushing to pick up milk, eggs and shovels, the store now gets slightly more crowded before a storm, but not hectic. On Sunday, he said the store was bustling but not packed.

Ming Zhang, manager of Dragon City restaurant in Silver Spring, said the unusually tough winter has hurt business. “We don’t want to close the business for one day,” Zhang said. “The last snow, we closed. It was really bad.”

Reggie Sanders of the District Department of Transportation advised drivers to stay off the roads once the snow starts falling.

“Stay away from snowplows. Give them room to operate and treat the roads,” he said. “Watch out for bridges. They freeze first.”

The repeated storms already have Virginia’s Department of Transportation wildly over budget for snow removal.

“We’ve already spent $122 million,” said VDOT’s Joan Morris. “Our budget was $63 million.”

She said the spending far outstripped what was spent in Northern Virginia for “Snowmageddon” in 2010. About 4,000 snowplows and salt trucks were assigned to Northern Virginia roads to begin work Sunday night.

Northern Virginia’s salt supply also is somewhat depleted, Morris said. “We don’t have as much salt as we normally would,” she said. “But we’ve been monitoring it and we’ll have enough for this storm.”

The Maryland State Highway Administration’s Dave Buck said the 2,400 trucks it deploys are equipped with salt and plows so that they can handle either freezing rain or snow. Buck said that this storm is the 31st this winter that has caused the state to activate its emergency system; in an average winter, he said, Maryland activates that system just 12 to 15 times.

“It helps us when it starts at midnight from a traffic perspective, but it’s brutal on our workers,” Buck said. “They have to sleep somehow in the afternoon, get up at eight or nine to go to work, and work into Tuesday.”

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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