By Ashley Halsey III, Sandhya Somashekhar and Josh White
Monday, December 21, 2009; A01
A day after a record-setting snowstorm emptied shopping malls, transformed traffic-clogged roads into ghostly lanes and reduced the Washington region's famous road-ragers into whimpering Sunday drivers, the area resumed a sense of normalcy -- with a few exceptions that are likely to make the Monday-morning commute problematic for those who must travel.
Metro officials said that it was reopening the aboveground stations on the Red Line to Shady Grove on Sunday night and that crews planned to work all night to try to reopen the other aboveground stations by 5 a.m. The aboveground stations had been closed since Saturday afternoon because of the wintry blanket that had settled on exposed tracks and rail cars, Metro officials said.
If many stations remain closed, the impact will be alleviated somewhat by the federal government's decision to close its agencies in the region and allow its workers to stay home. Still, the uncertainty is likely to throw off many workers' commutes, and Metro officials offered no guidance to riders other than to check the agency's Web site for updates.
Most school systems in Maryland and Northern Virginia announced that schools would be closed Monday. District schools are already on break.
Transportation officials in Northern Virginia, Maryland and the District said that main thoroughfares had largely been cleared but that many neighborhood streets might be blocked and that the continued frigid weather could make driving treacherous. A motorist was killed on Interstate 66 near Warrenton on Saturday in a crash blamed on high speeds and slick conditions.
The Baltimore Ravens' home game Sunday against the Chicago Bears was moved from 1 to 4:15 p.m. to give workers more time to clear snow before fans tried to make their way to M&T Bank Stadium. The Washington Redskins announced that they will bring in 1,200 workers to remove an estimated 25 million pounds of snow from FedEx Field and its parking lots before Monday night's 8:30 game.
At the snowstorm's peak Saturday afternoon, flakes were falling at a rate of two inches an hour. Some areas, particularly in Southern Maryland, had wind gusts of up to 40 mph. The total snowfall at Reagan National Airport was 16.4 inches, and as much as 23 inches fell elsewhere in the region.
That would be more snow in a 24-hour period than the region typically gets in an entire winter. According to the National Weather Service, the snowstorm ranked among the biggest in local history.
At Reagan National, which reopened its runways about midday Sunday, travelers gazed at lists of canceled or delayed flights and in some cases made other plans.
Sharon Smith of Germantown gave up on a trip to see her mother in Florida after Delta Air Lines said that the soonest she could get rebooked was Wednesday. Getting home wasn't going to be easy, either; the Metro station that serves the airport is aboveground and was closed. So Smith grabbed a spot on the floor outside the Metro station's locked doors.
"I'm just going to wait for Metro, however long that takes," Smith said. "This is all just ridiculous."
Shoppers slowly returned to malls Sunday after the storm had effectively canceled the busiest shopping day of the holiday season. Most area shopping centers opened on time Sunday morning after closing early Saturday when roads became impassable and public transportation shut down. But many shoppers were kept busy shoveling until early afternoon.
"Two days ago, before the snow, it was crazy in here," said Shiry Mordechai, 21, who works at a hair-straightener booth at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. "Today it's very, very slow. People just aren't coming. There's no doubt it's because of the snow."
Annie Rohlin of Takoma Park was watching "Ratatouille" with her sons Saturday evening when she got a panicked call from a neighbor about a pregnant woman who had gone into labor but was unable to get to the hospital.
Neighbors had called 911, but the firetruck and ambulance became trapped in a snow bank, she said. Rohlin, a Montgomery County school nurse who spent 13 years delivering babies as a midwife, threw on her winter gear and hiked over to the home nearby.
Rohlin was greeted with giddy relief when she showed up, she said: The child's grandmother, a nurse, had delivered the baby on the living room floor, she said.
"He was pink and screaming," she said Sunday. "The grandma had done all the work already, and everything was fine."
Others will have less exciting stories to tell about the great snowstorm of '09. About 180 travelers spent Saturday night in the District's Greyhound bus station, sleeping on Red Cross cots and eating fast food provided by the organization. The aid group was prepared to house the travelers a second night at a nearby elementary school, but Greyhound officials cleared their drivers to continue service through the area in late afternoon.
While those travelers were getting good news late Sunday, suburban Metrorail riders were not. As of 6 p.m., the rail system had not reopened the 39 aboveground stations that had been closed since Saturday afternoon. Metro said it would open all stations on the western end of the Red Line in Montgomery County by 8 p.m.
Bus riders also learned that the agency was suspending all Metrobus service beginning at 7 p.m. because of dangerously icy conditions, a decision that Metro officials said they would reevaluate Monday morning.
Workers had been working since Saturday evening to clear the 56 miles of Metrorail track that are exposed to the elements, a spokesman said. And although many rail cars had been stored in tunnels, hundreds sat in outdoor rail yards, where they were blanketed with up to a foot of snow.
Many Metro workers were unable to reach their work sites, and officials said staffing will probably be an issue again Monday. The task was made more difficult by wind that blew snow back onto tracks after they had been cleared, the spokesman said.
"We are plowing away snow that in some cases has been covering the rails and the third rail," he said. "Then we have to start running empty trains through there to make sure the rails are warm and the third rail is working properly."
Staff writers Hamil R. Harris, Ylan Mui, Martin Weil and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.