Fourth Washington snowstorm of season tests area power lines, patience

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
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

As the fourth powerful winter storm of the season started arriving in Washington on Tuesday, the beleaguered region surrendered to the forces of nature, shutting down governments and schools -- some until next week -- in response to a forecast for a foot of snow and gale-force winds that threatened to topple trees and take down power lines.

With equipment and road crews strained to the breaking point, salt and patience were running short. By the time it's all over, probably Wednesday afternoon, the immense weight of the three or more feet of snow piled on rooftops is expected to cause more to collapse. More people are likely to find themselves in unheated, dark houses.

"We expect increasingly gusty winds peaking toward midday and early afternoon. Trees and power lines will come down," said meteorologist Dan Stillman of The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang.

The mood in the winter-weary region turned sullen and resigned as the storm approached, prompting the closure of schools, local governments and federal offices for a third day. If the big snow in December felt like an adventure, the bombardment since then has begun to feel like purgatory.

"People have gotten stir-crazy and desperate, especially in the last 48 hours," said Christopher Galen of Annandale, who said he hadn't seen a snowplow since the last storm started Friday. "You keep waiting and waiting, and help doesn't show."

A desperate effort to cut a path down streets to every neighborhood before the new snow arrived fell short, and people still trapped in their homes saw their isolation prolonged.

"We will give those roads first attention when this storm is over," said Joan Morris of the Virginia Department of Transportation, who said crews worked to clear subdivisions "until the very last minute" before returning to try to keep primary roads open Tuesday night.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) pleaded for patience from those angered by the pace of road-clearing: "There is no city or county government that is geared up to move all of this snow."

School systems in Montgomery, Prince George's, Loudoun, Anne Arundel and Howard counties and Manassas won't reopen until next week. Alexandria schools will be closed Wednesday and Thursday, and schools in the District and Fairfax, Prince William, Arlington and Charles counties will be closed Wednesday.

Metro officials, who suspended aboveground trains at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, said service would probably be limited to underground stations Wednesday. Metrobus and MetroAccess service were canceled entirely for Wednesday.

Most other forms of public transportation are curtailed or suspended. The Montgomery RideOn, Fairfax Connector, D.C. Circulator and MTA commuter buses are canceled. No flights are expected to operate at Reagan National or Washington Dulles International airports; Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport is asking passengers to check with their airlines before going to the airport. VRE and MARC will not run Wednesday, and Amtrak is offering limited service in its Northeast corridor.

The federal government is marking its first three-day weather-related shutdown since January 1996. It is costing $100 million a day in lost productivity, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

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