A Blanket for Some, a Pounding for Others

Alex Newburgh pulls daughter Gabriela in a sled along Sligo Creek Parkway in Silver Spring. Sledding will continue today for many: Schools are closed in several districts.
Alex Newburgh pulls daughter Gabriela in a sled along Sligo Creek Parkway in Silver Spring. Sledding will continue today for many: Schools are closed in several districts. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)

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By Carol Morello and Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, February 13, 2006

Joel Betts got out of bed every hour through the night just to watch the snow fall, his anticipation growing with every flake as the 35-year-old banker imagined the snowman he would build.

He built it yesterday morning, 10 feet tall, in the middle of Dupont Circle, spraying black paint for buttons and blue paint for eyes and topping it off with a friend's baseball cap.

But daybreak brought anger, not joy, for Tami Powstenko, shivering in her Silver Spring home as the temperature slid lower by the hour. Two trees weighed down with snow had toppled a power line leading to her house. No lights, no heat, no water. Starting at 7:30 a.m., and well into the afternoon, she kept calling her utility company's emergency number. On a day when more than 300,000 customers also had lost their electricity, all she got was a busy signal.

As Betts and Powstenko illustrate, where people live in the region determined whether the weekend snowstorm was an occasion for fun or frustration, snowmen or repairmen.

The first big-league storm of an otherwise temperate winter dumped heavy, wet snow on metropolitan Washington. It was the kind of snow that was great for making snowballs and for sledding -- and for sending tree limbs crashing into power lines.

Despite two days of insistent warnings that a major storm was on the way, when it actually came there was almost an element of surprise to it. Most people had gone to bed Saturday night to a combination of rain and snow that wasn't sticking to the ground. They awoke to a world transformed.

How much varied widely. In most places, the snowfall ranged between 8 and 14 inches. But in Alexandria, only 6.2 inches was measured, while 17 inches fell in parts of Montgomery County. Howard County was one of the worst hit, with more than 21 inches of snow recorded in Columbia.

The storm ranked -- just barely -- among the Top 20 ever in the region, said Jim Lee, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. But that ranking is based on the snowfall measured at Reagan National Airport, which was eight inches.

"It's all local," Lee said. "For areas that got 18, 19, 22 inches of snow, it probably ranks in the Top 5."

And, as is often the case in a region where even a light coating of snow can shut down government and commerce, major school systems announced last night that today would be a school-less snow day. Among them were Montgomery, Prince George's and Howard counties in Maryland and Fairfax, Prince William, Stafford, Loudoun, Fauquier and Spotsylvania counties in Virginia. Two-hour delays are in effect for Charles, St. Mary's and Calvert counties in Maryland and the cities of Manassas, Manassas Park and Fredericksburg in Virginia. D.C. and Falls Church schools announced a two-hour delay for students.

Federal government offices will open on time.

A sense of playfulness dominated a day when people did not have to worry about getting to work or school. And many churches decided to cancel services. Even on a Sunday, the effect was to mute the jarring sounds of everyday life. Bevies of snowmen and snow angels were created. At parks with hills, children screamed with delight as they tried out their Christmas sleds and saucers.

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