Ice Storm's Impact Short-Lived on Roads, Power Lines

The region copes with the season's first round of sleet, freezing rain and ice after Tuesday's snowfall.
By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 28, 2009; 4:24 PM

Major highways in Virginia and Maryland were reported in near pristine condition as the hearty commuters who made it to work today began to head home, and power companies promised that they would find the lights on when they arrived.

Ice storms are notorious for taking down power lines in this region, but both power and highway authorities said the snow, sleet and icy conditions of the past 36 hours lacked the punch to cause blackouts or make major roads hazardous.

Road crews are prepared to work through tonight to combat ice that might form as the temperature dips. Authorities warned drivers not to let their guard down and that icy patches might not be visible -- until it's too late to react.

The major complaints from the coating of ice today were sprains and broken bones from falls on the ice and the ordeal of navigating slippery side streets.

"As ice storms go, this didn't pack much of a punch," said Dave Buck of the Maryland State Highway Administration. "The biggest problem was chipping the ice off your car windows and getting out of the parking space."

Buck said all of the state's major highways had been in "excellent" shape throughout the day. Joan Morris of the Virginia Department of Transportation gave a similar assessment, saying that VDOT crews continued to sand "trouble spots" in subdivisions.

"For going home the roads should be clear and fine," she said.

There was enough ice to make life slippery, but not enough to bring down power lines. Dominion Virginia Power had just 300 customers without power statewide, and Pepco, which serves much of the Washington area, reported only 425 customers in the dark.

"There really wasn't enough ice to bring down the lines," said Bob Dobkin of Pepco. "It's been a fairly mild winter so far, but it isn't over. The Farmers Almanac says February could be bad."

Freezing rain and drizzle were forecast for the late afternoon and evening, turning into rain during the night with low temperatures near 30. Tomorrow is expected to be mostly sunny and in the mid-30s, according to the National Weather Service. Authorities said tomorrow morning's road conditions should be better than today's.

The icy sidewalks and roadways appeared to get the better of some folks this morning. At George Washington University Hospital, a spokeswoman said that between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. about a half-dozen people had come to the emergency room with a variety of weather-related injuries ranging from injured shoulders to sore wrists. Perhaps District folks were less agile than their suburban neighbors. Officials at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring reported no uptick in weather-related ER traffic. "It's business as usual down there," spokeswoman Yolanda Gaskins said.

In Virginia, hospitals in the Inova Health System have seen a trickle of patients into ERs because of weather-related accidents today, mostly slips and falls, Inova spokesman Che Parker said. About noon, Inova Fairfax had 13 patients in the ER that fit that bill, Parker said, and an additional five had been discharged there.

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