Winter Hits in a Burst of White

Claire Cosgrove, 2, and Katie Cosgrove, 4, of Kensington take a trip down their front lawn. Their father bought four sleds yesterday for the occasion.
Claire Cosgrove, 2, and Katie Cosgrove, 4, of Kensington take a trip down their front lawn. Their father bought four sleds yesterday for the occasion. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
By Lori Aratani and Daniel De Vise
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 22, 2007

The latest first snowstorm in more than a decade swept through the Washington region yesterday, delighting fans of winter but causing havoc on the highways and threatening to make this morning's commute an ordeal of slipping and sliding.

By late evening, most of the snow had pushed eastward out of the heart of the area, but it was replaced by a cold drizzle that quickly froze on many roads.

"It's pretty much ice out there," a staff member at Arlington County's police and fire communications center said.

"It's definitely slippery," said a Maryland State Police sergeant in Prince George's County. He said most of the traffic mishaps were occurring around bridges and ramps, which usually are the first to freeze and last to melt.

Early today, the National Weather Service said it expected freezing drizzle and freezing rain to persist through 2 a.m. in the eastern half of the metropolitan area. Although additional icing would be minor, forecasters said, it would compound the already slippery conditions.

Prince William, Fauquier, Madison, King George, Spotsylvania, Warren and Stafford county schools will be closed today, along with Manassas public schools. In many cases, administrative personnel still must report. Alexandria schools will open two hours late.

Most other school systems said they would decide early today what to do. Students in Montgomery and Howard counties have the day off because it is a professional day for teachers.

The snow, which came relatively late in the season, left accumulations of one to two inches in many places -- not that much, even by Washington standards. However, it delighted those who had been waiting for it. The last time the wait was so long was 1995, when five inches fell Jan. 28.

"Oh man, it's beautiful," said Nicolas Vargas of Wheaton, who broke out into song while buying a scraper at a Kensington hardware store. "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."

Kera Lagios, on vacation in the District from Boston, declared: "It's freezing. It's snowing. It's the way it should be."

Residents might like the snow, law enforcement officials said, but judging from yesterday, few knew how to drive in it.

Scores of accidents were reported. In the District, police said there were more than 200, mostly minor. In Stafford County, there were more than 100, all minor. In Montgomery, authorities received about 150 calls for highway help between 2 and 6 p.m. Most were for relatively minor wrecks, said fire department spokesman Pete Piringer. Normally, he said, about 375 calls come in over a full day. No fatalities were reported in the immediate Washington area.

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