Washington region blasted by winds, record-breaking snow

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.

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By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post staff writers
Thursday, February 11, 2010

The fiercest storm yet in the worst winter in local history howled across the region Wednesday, locking virtually everything in a shroud of new snow that will take days to escape. And there might be more on the way.

As the region tries to right itself after what increasingly looked like a lost week, just digging out from under a foot of fresh snow piled atop two feet of previous snow has left road crews and 5.5 million Washington area inhabitants exhausted. The storm that could arrive Monday seemed a trivial threat after all that, but it could compound the havoc played with virtually every rhythm of daily life.

"Most likely it will be a modest event," said Jason Samenow, chief meteorologist of The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang. "But the way this winter has been going, I wouldn't rule anything out." It's not clear to forecasters how much snow the storm could bring.

Local officials sought to have Maryland, Virginia and the District formally declared a disaster area, making the region eligible for federal funds to help already hemorrhaging budgets recoup the untold millions spent on snow removal.

"If there is ever a time for a state of emergency, this is it," said D.C. Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large). "This District is not only facing a crippling snowstorm, but we're facing a crippling budget shortfall and citywide safety issues."

The federal government announced that it would remain closed for a fourth day Thursday. Most local governments and many private offices followed suit. All large area school systems already had given up until Tuesday, fearing for the safety of children forced into the street by unshoveled sidewalks. Utility crews were back at work, this time with fewer outages than the thousands caused by the weekend's heavier, wetter snow.

"Mother Nature has the upper hand right now," said Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein. Only underground Metro service will operate Thursday, and Metrobus and MetroAccess will remain suspended. Montgomery Ride On, Fairfax Connector and MTA commuter buses are canceled Thursday, as are MARC and VRE trains. Amtrak's Northeast service will be limited. The region's three airports told passengers to check with their airlines Thursday before leaving to catch their flights.

As of 2 p.m. Wednesday, the snowfall total for the season in Washington had surpassed the 54.4-inch record set in 1899, and it rose to 55.6 inches by 4 p.m. It was even higher farther from the city, reaching seasonal totals of 72 inches in Baltimore and at Dulles International Airport.

"I never thought I would see a winter like this one in my lifetime," said Samenow, a native of the area. "The climate was colder back in 1899, when that record was set."

Samenow said that although the amount of snow Wednesday was surpassed by the weekend storm and the first big snowfall in December, neither of those packed the ferocity of the latest blast.

"It plastered the whole D.C. region," Samenow said. "This is a more intense storm than the one this past weekend. It's a deeper cyclone with lower barometric pressure and higher winds."

As the blizzard roared in, governments, from federal agencies to town halls, closed, many for the third day running. There was no school, no malls and no mail. Virtually all public transportation ground to a halt, with Metro running only underground trains at 30-minute intervals.


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