D.C. area gears up for sloppy, wintry mix

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 22, 2010

By late January, particularly a month after a two-foot snowfall, the region turns a more jaded eye toward the threat of winter weather, as if to say, "Show us what you've got."

So it was as another winter storm wobbled toward Washington, forecast to deliver snow or sleet or ice or rain or all those forms of precipitation. With one biggie and a couple of other "weather events" under their belts this season, people seemed less panic-prone.

"The next 36 hours are marked with wintry uncertainty," said forecaster Josh Larsen on The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang blog. "As is often the case, I-95 should be something of a dividing line between some snow/sleet accumulation and very little."

The gang forecast rain, sleet and some freezing rain during the early morning, changing to snow or a mix of rain and snow. The unpleasant weather seemed likely to wind down by the middle of the day, making the evening commute an easier go.

Road crews fueled their trucks Thursday and began spreading chemicals on roads in the District, Maryland and Virginia. Grocers doled out greater quantities of the things people think they might run short on should the weather put a real clamp on travel. Metro said buses and rail lines would be "very close" to a regular Friday schedule.

"Strange thing is, we never forget how to ride a bike or how to swim, but we tend to forget how to drive in a wintry mix," said John B. Townsend II of AAA. "During the winter season, snow, an unwelcome guest at best, has a way of becoming part of our everyday life. We get more snow and freezing rain each year than most folks tend to remember."

Virginia had 350 trucks out by noon Thursday. "We pre-treated certain areas [Wednesday]," said Joan Morris of the Virginia Department of Transportation. Among them; the Springfield interchange, the Capital Beltway at Route 1, and the Interstate 66-Route 29 interchange at Gainesville.

The District snow team would be fully deployed starting about 9 p.m. Thursday, said John Lisle, spokesman for the District Department of Transportation.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said the city was preparing for the worst, just in case. "As we have seen over the past few weeks, these types of storms are unpredictable as to what type of precipitation we see in the city," he said.

In Maryland, the State Highway Administration planned to have crews treating area roads by 11 p.m. Thursday. They were setting out earlier in western parts of the state, where greater snow accumulations were anticipated.

Although recent experience with snow and ice might have increased driver confidence, Townsend cautioned against getting cocky on ice. "This region averages eight days of freezing rain per year, generally in January or February," he said. "Motorists should remember that driving a car on an icy surface is an extremely dangerous activity. Double or triple your following distance, and guard against SUV overconfidence. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are great for initial traction and avoiding getting stuck, but once they are moving, they have the same difficulty keeping control and stopping as other vehicles."

Airlines advised early morning passengers to check their flight status. The region's three major airports -- Dulles International, Reagan National and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall -- said they were geared up to clean runways and areas surrounding their terminals.

Metro said Metrobus and MetroAccess service "are only as reliable as road conditions allow" and alerted passengers to possible detours and delays because of changing road conditions. The transit agency said use of snow- and ice-clearing equipment between regularly scheduled passenger trains might cause longer waits between trains.

Staff writers Kafia A. Hosh and Ann Scott Tyson contributed to this report.

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