Washington Area Braces for Snow; Up to 10 Inches Possible

Pat Casey of Chevy Chase tries out a shovel at Strosniders Hardware in Bethesda in preparation for the storm.
Pat Casey of Chevy Chase tries out a shovel at Strosniders Hardware in Bethesda in preparation for the storm. (By Susan Biddle For The Washington Post)
By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 2, 2009

Area transportation officials braced yesterday for what they say could be the largest winter storm in three years. By late last night, it had brought almost seven inches of snow to parts of the area and was expected to bring still more, making the commute maddening.

Four of the area's major public school systems had announced last night that they would close today: those in Anne Arundel, Charles, Fairfax and Prince William counties. Several smaller and more distant systems also said they would close, along with Catholic University.

By midnight, 6.8 inches of snow had been reported in Hollywood and 5.5 in La Plata. But in downtown Washington, temperatures remained at or above freezing, keeping streets mainly wet rather than white. Accumulations began forming after midnight.

The worst of the snow is expected east of Interstate 95. Closer to the District and in Virginia, the forecast calls for four to eight inches of snow. Depending on how quickly the storm whisks up the East Coast, today's drive to work is likely to be a severe test, transportation officials said, and the afternoon commute could be affected as well. They are urging motorists to stay off the roads.

The heaviest accumulations are expected in Anne Arundel and Calvert counties, meteorologists said. Totals there could exceed snow totals for most winters.

Throughout the region, the forecast sent many people out yesterday to purchase bread and milk for their kitchens and rock salt for their sidewalks and driveways.

Metrorail plans to open at 5 a.m. today, as usual. But snowfalls of more than eight inches can affect aboveground rail service if snow and ice cover the electrified third rail, which must be clear to power the trains. Metro will be running trains with special equipment to keep snow and ice from building up.

If forecasts hold, most buses are likely to start the day behind schedule. Metrobus detours are likely because of road conditions, especially on side streets, spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said.

"This is obviously the big one," said Joan Morris, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation. "It's going to be bad during rush hour."

The National Weather Service issued a 24-hour winter storm warning for the region that extends until 2 p.m. today for the District and areas of Maryland and Northern Virginia east of the Blue Ridge. .

The "primary burst" of snowfall was expected between 8 last night and 2 a.m., said Andy Woodcock, lead forecaster for the Weather Service. A second burst was expected from 4 a.m. into the late morning.

The timing of that second burst is the big issue for road crews.

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