A Clumpy Torrent Sends Road Crews Scrambling

A skier on the Mall.
A skier on the Mall. "It really is beautiful, though I probably won't be saying that on the ride home," said a Dupont Circle farmers market vendor. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
By Michelle Boorstein and Lena Sun
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, February 26, 2007

What started as chilly rain yesterday snowballed, so to speak, turning into a brief blizzard with six inches of snow in some areas, along with fender benders, power outages and a nightmare for some parents: more school closings.

Early today, mist, drizzle and sometimes freezing drizzle continued to fall in places. Roads glistened with moisture, and slush abounded. It was not clear whether temperatures, which hovered near freezing, would fall enough to produce ice, particularly on back roads, side streets and untreated pavement.

Yesterday, the wet, chunky flakes caught transportation officials off guard, and they scrambled to figure out the right cocktail of road salts to keep thoroughfares clear for this morning's rush.

"We're shifting gears. We're simultaneously salting and plowing," said Dave Buck, a Maryland Department of Transportation spokesman.

By 9 last night, school officials had canceled today's classes in Virginia's Prince William, Loudoun, Fauquier, Stafford, Madison and Culpeper counties. The D.C. school system said it will be open, as did the federal government. Federal employees will be permitted unscheduled leave.

Metro will run buses only on snow emergency routes and will add service as conditions improve, officials said yesterday. Metrorail was expected to open on time, at 5 a.m. Metro urged users of MetroAccess, the service for the elderly and disabled, to use the service only for emergencies.

D.C. officials declared a snow emergency at 3 p.m. That meant cars had to be removed from streets to make room for plows. City officials drew criticism during a storm two weeks ago, when parked cars became ice sculptures and plows couldn't access the sides of roads. The declaration was lifted at 9 p.m.

"No one knew we were going to get this much snow anywhere on the East Coast," Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said at a hastily called news conference. Fenty initially planned to spend yesterday in a cycling event but wound up talking to the cameras in the early evening.

The storm was just an echo of what it was earlier in the weekend, when it roared through the Midwest and the Plains, dumping as much as two feet of snow and leaving eight people dead.

Main roads in Maryland and Virginia were in good shape yesterday afternoon, officials said. They hoped to have subdivision streets cleared overnight.

"This is easy stuff to plow, unlike last week, where everything froze and we were stuck in ice for days," said Joan Morris, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Snow depths appeared to range from three to six inches across much of the region.

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