Snowstorm's intensity has D.C. region hunkering down

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 and Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 6, 2010

The full weight of winter bore down on the Washington region Friday night, bringing life to a near standstill in some places as a storm predicted to be one of the most powerful on record brought snow that was falling as fast as two inches an hour overnight.

Police reported two fatalities -- a father and son hit by a tractor-trailer in Virginia when they stopped to help a stranded motorist -- and with the snowfall expected to outpace plows' ability to clear it, officials pleaded with people to stay off the roads until conditions improve.

Metro, the transportation lifeline for tens of thousands of people, halted service to aboveground portions of its system at 11 p.m. Friday. The restriction was to remain in place Saturday.

Metro also halted all bus service at 9 p.m. Friday. No Metrobus or MetroAccess service will be provided Saturday, officials said.

"Stay in unless you absolutely have to be out," said John Lisle of the District Department of Transportation. "We could be looking at near-whiteout conditions, and it's going to be hard for the plows to see people. We've still got a lot of storm ahead of us."

As the moisture-laden snow continued to fall, Virginia authorities shut down westbound Interstate 66 from Rosslyn to the Beltway just after 11 p.m. Friday to permit plowing, state police said.

Many Friday flights and all Saturday flights at Reagan National Airport were canceled, as were most domestic operations at Dulles International Airport, according to Tara Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Some international flights were continuing at Dulles.

Just after dark Friday, a full blizzard warning was extended east to the Chesapeake Bay for the first time in memory. The National Weather Service said the warning would remain in effect until 10 p.m. Saturday.

"This extremely dangerous storm is expected to produce record snowfall for the Washington metropolitan area," the National Weather Service said. It warned that travel conditions would be "extremely hazardous and life-threatening, and all citizens are urged to remain indoors."

Although "blizzard" is often loosely used to describe a heavy snowfall, a true blizzard has sustained winds or gusts above 35 mph, blowing snow that cuts visibility below a quarter of a mile and lasts at least three hours.

"Get ready (if you stay up) for some of the heaviest -- if not the heaviest -- snowfall rates you ever see around here," forecasters with The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang said Friday night. "It will come down in buckets, perhaps with some thunder, most of the night. The heaviest focus is likely from around 10 p.m. through sunrise. While most locations should pick up at least one foot overnight alone, don't be surprised if some spots pick up a good bit more."

Power lines weaken

The big blow rolled in with a different attitude than the two major storms of the season that preceded it. This time, higher temperatures made for a wet and heavy snow that weighed down trees and overhead lines. Even before nightfall, the maps that track power outages in Virginia, Maryland and the District began to register the toll. Trees were also toppled in southwestern Virginia.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company