After Wintry Mix Blankets Area, Warming Trend Expected Today

McPherson Square is blanketed with snow during yesterday's winter-mix storm. The National Weather Service has predicted a warming trend and dry weather today.
McPherson Square is blanketed with snow during yesterday's winter-mix storm. The National Weather Service has predicted a warming trend and dry weather today. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)

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By Karin Brulliard and Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 16, 2005

Self-employed snowplower Donny Dehaven zoomed his GMC truck forward, then back, then forward again, salting and scraping the parking lot of a Leesburg office building -- for the third time yesterday.

"You put down the salt, and it melts; then you turn around, and it freezes. Then you put down the salt, and it melts; then you turn around, and it freezes," Dehaven said. It was 4 p.m.

By that hour, the fat morning snowflakes that blanketed much of the Washington area had evolved into smaller snowflakes, then freezing rain and arrived at just plain rain. It added up to a slick blend that prompted some school districts to close, led most to shut down early and left evening drivers grappling with slushy, salted roads and walkers treading carefully on icy sidewalks.

Wintry weather, as predicted, was in most force north and west of the District, with a half-inch of the cold, soupy mix falling in Mount Airy and Vienna, and nearly as much in eastern Loudoun County, according to the National Weather Service.

In Fairfax County, roads became so perilous -- there were 140 accidents by midafternoon -- that police officers abandoned writing accident reports involving only property damage, police spokesman Richard Henry said.

No major weather-related crashes were reported, and for the most part, icy conditions failed to wreak havoc on roadways -- perhaps, Arlington police spokesman Rick Rodriguez surmised, because drivers fear ice more than snow.

"Ice is a lot different," he said. "It makes roads into ice rinks."

A warmer system making its way from the Southeast to the mid-Atlantic turned yesterday morning's fat flakes to sleet by the afternoon. The warm surge was expected to keep temperatures in most of the region above freezing last night, thawing icy roads and clearing the way for a normal morning commute, said Weather Servicemeteorological technician Calvin Meadows.

Roads could remain slippery in the Shenandoah Valley and Western Maryland this morning, where temperatures might hover around freezing all day, Meadows said. But in most of the region, today's highs should reach the mid-40s, and the weather should be dry, he said.

Schools in Loudoun, Fauquier and Stafford counties, where weather predictions were the most dire, closed. But most school districts -- including Fairfax, Arlington, Prince William, Montgomery, Prince George's, Charles and Calvert counties and Alexandria -- opted to shut down a few hours early, squeezing in some learning time.

Prince George's officials made that decision -- a "tough one," schools spokesman John White said -- at 7:30 a.m., long before snow or sleet had arrived. They were mindful of an episode in the 1980s when school officials decided to keep schools on a normal schedule, only to have foul weather force some students to camp out at school overnight, he said.

"We don't want to repeat something like that," White said.


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