A Hint of Winter's Wonderland

Shoveling the Sidewalk
Washington commuters deal with wet conditions after a mix of snow, sleet and rain moved into the District early Friday Dec. 9, 2005. (Arianne Starnes for washingtonpost.com)

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By Nick Anderson and Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 10, 2005

The thin, slushy blanket of white began melting early yesterday under a sparkly sun, a reminder that winter had not quite arrived. Sledders had to move fast to find a worthy slope. But it was just enough snow at just the right time to set hundreds of thousands of Washington-area students free from school for an accidental three-day weekend.

Williamsburg Middle School students Sara Brigagliano, 12, Ella Richardson, 11, and Heather Smolinski, 11, did their homework Thursday night, just in case. But when news came that the day was theirs, they sprang into action. First, they went to Sara's house and did gymnastics in the basement. Then they asked her mother to take them to Tysons Corner Center for burgers and browsing. Afterward, the plan was to go sledding at Ella's and then hot-tubbing at Heather's.

Problem was, the snow might melt by afternoon. Shouldn't they have gone sledding first?

"We thought of that," Sara said. "But we couldn't come to the mall with all, like, snow stuff on. That would have been a problem."

Not that Jack Sanders minded. The 9-year-old third-grader from Bethesda, released from classes at Woods Academy, romped on a hillside with friends first thing in the morning, had hot chocolate and went to Westfield Shoppingtown Montgomery with his mother in the afternoon to catch a new movie about an exceptionally long, intense and magical winter.

Before he saw "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," Jack offered this assessment of the weather: "It was good snowball snow. Because of the ice. It would stick together and wouldn't fall apart."

Schoolchildren took a straightforward view of their one-day liberation -- "Great!" blurted Christopher Norman Jr., a sixth-grader walking with his family through the Bethesda mall -- but meteorologists had a more nuanced appraisal of the storm. It dumped 2 to 4 inches of snow and other forms of precipitation late Thursday and early yesterday in District and surrounding areas .

"Snow, sleet, freezing rain and liquid rain, all within a small area," said Steve Rogowski of the National Weather Service in Sterling. "That's a very complicated system."

But not too complicated to measure: Spotters told the weather service that 5 inches of snow fell in Frederick, 3.5 in Colesville and in Woodbridge, 3 in Vienna, 2.2 in Falls Church and 1.6 at Reagan National Airport. Ice readings included 0.18 inches in Colesville and 0.1 inches in Annapolis.

With temperatures hovering near freezing much of the day, the snow was wet and prone to melt. The most fell between 2 and 6 a.m. "It was almost a worst-case thing, right before the morning rush hour," Rogowski said.

The weekend forecast calls for sunny or partly cloudy skies and continued chilly conditions. No snow is immediately in sight.

By 5 a.m. yesterday, there was a virtual consensus among area school officials to shut down.


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