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Remaining Ice, Slush Prompts School Delays

The region copes with the season's first round of sleet, freezing rain and ice after Tuesday's snowfall.

But the cold air to our north and west is deeper, and snow requires the air to be below freezing from the cloud level to the ground. But if there are several layers with different temperatures -- a freezing layer, a warmer level and a second freezing layer -- the snow falling from the clouds melts when it hits the warm air. Then it either refreezes into sleet at the second level of cold air or falls as rain that turns to ice when it makes contact with the frozen ground.

That's what happened yesterday. Blame it on the Appalachian Mountains.

The mountains contribute to the problem because northeast winds often trap a shallow layer of cold air against the eastern side of the Appalachians -- in other words, over the Washington region. Then warmer air coming from the west or south slices across the top of the trapped air. Suddenly, there is a blanket of warm air between the snow-laden clouds and the cold air below them.

The result is ice. As some people painfully found out yesterday.

At George Washington University Hospital, a spokeswoman said a half-dozen people came into the emergency room during the morning with a variety of weather-related injuries, including injured shoulders and sore wrists.

At Inova Fairfax Hospital, most of the emergency room patients, more than 20 people, blamed the weather for their injuries, Inova spokesman Che Parker said.

"Bumps, bruises, some back pain, broken bones," Parker said. "And a lot of it has been wrist injuries, too, from people trying to brace themselves from falling."

Inova Alexandria Hospital saw 23 weather-related injuries, about a third of the emergency room traffic, and Inova Mount Vernon saw seven. Potomac Hospital in Woodbridge reported a slight increase in orthopedic injuries. At Prince William Hospital, spokeswoman Donna Ballou counted 10 ice-related injuries, all minor sprains or broken bones.

In Annapolis, state Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) took an early-morning spill on an icy sidewalk near the State House and was sent to the emergency room for treatment of an injured back. "It was like glass," said Frosh, who was back in his office later in the morning.

Police across the area reported accidents, many of them on side streets where braking cars slid into one another, bending fenders but causing few serious injuries.

Police are investigating whether weather conditions contributed to two accidents in Prince George's County yesterday.

Nine people were hurt in a five-vehicle crash in District Heights about 2:50 p.m., authorities said. Three people trapped in one car had serious injuries, and six other people were hurt less seriously, said Mark Brady, spokesman for the Prince George's Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.


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