Region rushes to prepare for another shot of winter weather

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
Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snowplow crews were ordered to continue working round-the-clock to open thousands of untouched neighborhood streets before turning to meet an ominous new winter storm on Tuesday.

Metro also rushed to finish digging out half-buried trains and buses before the advancing storm could coat the old snow with a layer of ice and 12 to 16 inches of fresh snow forecast by the National Weather Service.

The federal government, which was shuttered Monday, announced that it would be closed for a second day Tuesday. Most school systems in the region also will be closed Tuesday, and Loudoun County officials announced that classes have been canceled until Feb. 16.

Metro said it would provide increased, although still limited, service.

The disappearance of some fire hydrants beneath plowed mounds surfaced as a potentially life-threatening problem. And where to put all the snow being shoved aside, already a daunting challenge, loomed a larger issue with the possibility of more arriving.

"Parts of the region could experience true blizzard conditions," said Jason Samenow, chief meteorologist for The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang. "The bull's-eye looks to be a little north and east of the last storm, but it's probably going to be crippling in any event with all the snow still on the ground."

This storm is a confluence of two big low-pressure systems that are on track to collide off the North Carolina coast and then turn north, bringing heavy snowfall that will continue into Wednesday. Samenow said Virginia and the District might get 6 to 10 inches, while Maryland could receive as much as 14. High winds -- perhaps gusting to 50 mph -- might topple trees and take down power lines just as service was being restored to tens of thousands of customers.

The National Weather Service predicted late Monday that 12 to 16 inches of snow would fall in the District and its nearby suburbs by Wednesday. A little less was expected in Fairfax County, the weather service said. Snow was expected to start falling Tuesday afternoon and become heavy overnight, amid fierce winds.

A storm of the magnitude expected Tuesday would rank as a major weather event in a normal winter season, but it seems destined to be a footnote in a year that will be remembered for the ferocity of its snowstorms.

"In any other winter, this storm probably would be the big-ticket event," Samenow said. "Even at the lowest end of what we're forecasting for tomorrow, it would match the biggest snow we had last year."

Late Monday, the Office of Personnel Management announced that federal offices will be closed Tuesday because of challenging road conditions across the region. Most employees will be granted excused absences, but emergency employees are expected to report for work on time.

Metro announced late Monday that rail service will resume at some of its aboveground stations and that a limited amount of MetroAccess service will be provided between 8 a.m. and noon for people needing life-sustaining treatment. Rail and bus service will begin at 5 a.m. Tuesday but could be shut down early, depending on weather conditions. "We will have to watch and monitor what [the weather] does Tuesday night and Wednesday morning," Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said.

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