By Fred Barbash
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 11, 2006 5:39 PM
Snow started falling in earnest in the Washington area this afternoon, with the National Weather Service saying that the region's first significant snowfall of the year would intensify tonight and tomorrow, bringing between 4 to 10 inches across the region through Sunday.
The entire east coast from Washington to New England was affected by the storm system, which swept in from the southwest in a northeasterly direction, with authorities expecting considerable disruption in road travel and air traffic.
The District declared a "snow emergency" as of 7:00 p.m, which requires motorists to get their cars off designated snow emergency routes to allow for plowing.
School systems and others cancelled weekend activities in anticipation of road problems.
Local airports reported delays in some arrivals and departures of up to two hours as weather conditions deteriorated.
Numerous airlines, including U.S Airways, Delta, American Eagle, United, Continental and American, canceled flights, according to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
American Airlines canceled more than 400 flights along the East Coast -- from Boston, to Rhode Island, to Connecticut to the Washington area, said spokesman Tim Wagner.
"We are expected to have eight to 10 inches of accumulation," Wagner said. "The biggest factors [in canceling flights] were the wind gusts expected this evening."
Metrorail said it was canceling weekend maintenance activity and adding deicing equipment to its trains today, though it said it anticipated no disruption unless accumulations reached 8 inches.
A National Weather Service heavy snow warning updated at 3:00 p.m. cautioned motorists of limited visibility through the night and potentially hazardous road conditions, suggesting that people avoid unnecessary travel.
John Darnely, a weather service meteorologist based in Sterling, said a mix of rain and snow would increase toward sunset and then change entirely to snow as temperatures drop tonight.
Asked about the level of certainly, he noted that "the models are constantly changing."
The service's 3:00 p.m. update said that total accumulations over much of the area would be 6 to 12 inches, as opposed to the 14 inches projected earlier Saturday.
Warmer temperatures in southern Maryland will delay the changeover to snow this evening, cutting snowfall there to between 4 and 12 inches, the warning said.
After sunrise Sunday, winds will increase but with the snow fairly heavy and wet, the potential for blowing and drifting snow will be limited.
Metrorail said 20 trains will be equipped with de-icing equipment to combat snow and ice on the third rail, the release said, with twelve operating in regular passenger service.
It said that passengers will see de-icing equipment inside the trains. While the equipment is not hazardous, the release said, "if they prefer not to be in a rail car with the equipment, they can move to another rail car."
Blizzard warnings were posted from the New York City area into eastern New England, where up to 15 inches of snow was possible, and a winter storm warning was issued for most of New Jersey, wire services reported.
In Connecticut, forecasters predicted up to 12 inches of snow, with the highest totals along the shoreline. Snow was expected to start Saturday evening and become heavy after midnight before tapering off Sunday afternoon.