For many in D.C. area, snowstorm's charms begin to melt

16.4 inches of snow fell on Washington, D.C., over two days, making it the sixth-highest snow total on record. The 15 inches that fell Saturday made it the third-highest snowfall day ever.
By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The majesty of a major snowstorm began to wear thin for all but schoolchildren Monday as emergency rooms in the Washington area filled with broken bones, holiday travelers sought to resurrect ruined plans and exhausted road crews continued to reclaim asphalt yard by yard.

Some school systems threw up their hands and proclaimed a premature start to their winter breaks. The federal government waited until the last moment before deciding to reopen but granted liberal leave. Homeowners who marveled Saturday at the magnitude of the snowfall, up to 2 feet in some areas, had turned ornery by Monday, convinced that their street was destined to be the very last plowed.

"Arlington has the worst snow-removal plan I've seen," said Kendall Church, who lives near the Ballston Metro station. "I've yet to see any snowplows come through any of the streets in my neighborhood, but Arlington will not take removal requests like D.C. will, nor do they have a handy map that shows what streets have been cleared already."

Many people used the day off to catch up on shopping for the holidays, a godsend to merchants staggered by the weekend's losses. Snowplows had to fight through snarled traffic to attack mountains of snow surrounding roads near malls, and police were summoned to help control traffic as dark fell and gridlock set in at Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax.

Diane Supley, a manager at J. Jill, a women's clothing store, lives four miles from the mall, but she said it took her 90 minutes to get to work, where she discovered throngs of shoppers.

"It's wall-to-wall people," she said. "I went to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks, and the line was twice as long as usual."

Digging out

The District was leading in the street-clearing effort, reporting that most of the major work had been done and that crews would tackle missed streets and revisit some that had been plowed early in the storm. Montgomery County plows were tackling neighborhoods in the most densely populated areas. It might be Wednesday before the first path is opened into some Northern Virginia neighborhoods, and Prince George's County was bedeviled by ice.

"You can't plow ice," said Jim Keary, a Prince George's spokesman. "What they're having to do is treat the streets before plowing them."

Without confidence that residential streets would be safe for buses, administrators closed schools Tuesday in Anne Arundel, Howard and Montgomery counties. Schools in Northern Virginia and in Calvert, Frederick, Prince George's and St. Mary's opted to declare an early start to the holidays and will remain closed until after New Year's. Schools in the District and Calvert County had already begun their scheduled winter break.

"You know what Fairfax County's like," said Paul Regnier, Fairfax schools spokesman, explaining the decision to remain closed. "It's cul-de-sac after cul-de-sac. A lot of these haven't been plowed. . . . Our main concern, obviously, is the safety of the kids. We don't want them standing on the street waiting for the bus."

After a Sunday of snow-clearing, nightfall brought temperatures in the 20s, and by morning wet sidewalks were icy. That sent people tumbling, and many rolled into emergency rooms for X-rays, splints and casts.

"We had a total of 57 X-rays this morning for backs, ankles, hands and wrists," said Ron Harris, a spokesman for Howard University Hospital.

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