D.C. area stocks up and hunkers down for major snowstorm

After two recent snowstorms closed the federal government and schools across the region, people began digging out. The season's snow tally in D.C. reached 55.6 inches Wednesday -- more than the last record of 54.4 inches, set in 1898-99.
By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 5, 2010

Wind-driven snow will begin to pelt the region with the ferocity of a summer thunderstorm Friday, according to forecasts, accumulating at a rate of three inches an hour during the worst of it and piling up more than two feet deep before it's over.

As the big storm bore down on the region and the record books, people surrendered to what seemed inevitable, preparing to shut down virtually everything that didn't need to be open. If form follows forecast, the snow will begin Friday morning, continue to fall well into Saturday and leave Sunday for the big dig-out and the Super Bowl.

Highway crews rolled out for their third all-hands deployment of the winter season, pre-treating roads and positioning plows and salt trucks, fully aware that nothing in their arsenal can keep pace with snow falling at two to three inches an hour.

"It's just going to be a continual plowing operation and keeping up the best we can," said Kellie Boulware of Maryland's State Highway Administration. "It's going to be a long weekend."

Winter-weary and weather-wise after an abundance of snow this season, residents trudged through the routine of stockpiling groceries and lining up at the gas pump to top off the tank. Facing the prospect of being home alone for the Super Bowl, many dropped by the liquor store.

The region's biggest employer -- the federal government -- said workers could take unscheduled leave and held open the possibility that all federal offices would close early Friday. Most local governments followed suit. For the first time in 40 years, the Virginia legislature canceled all meetings during its annual session. The World Bank declared Friday a snow holiday "in the interest of staff safety."

School officials wrestled with the problem that most were out of snow days, before acknowledging the risk of sending school bus fleets into a blizzard. Fairfax County was the first to close in advance of the first snowflake, but Alexandria and Manassas and Spotsylvania, Arlington and Stafford counties followed. Howard County officials said schools would close three hours early.

The storm will ride in on fierce winds and could produce thunder, said Dan Stillman of The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang. "It's going to be about as intense as you can get around here," he said. "An inch per hour or two inches may be more typical, but you could get up to three inches an hour for several hours."

The Capital Weather Gang said the snow probably would begin between 8 a.m. and noon, intensifying in the afternoon and falling hard most of the night before tapering off Saturday afternoon and evening.

It would be just the third time in almost 60 years that the region has experienced two snowfalls in excess of 10 inches in one season.

Metro anticipated that snow and ice would impede bus service and was prepared to close aboveground portions of Metrorail once snowfall reached eight inches on the tracks and began to cover the electrified third rail.

Amtrak canceled some train service along the Eastern Seaboard for Friday and truncated the routes of other trains.

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