Major snowstorm could break D.C. area records

Locals at the Safeway in Alexandria, Va., stocked up on staples ahead of the expected snowpocalypse. Interviews in order: Sarah Lyle, Robert Porter and Elizabeth Shea. Video by Ben de la Cruz/The Washington Post
By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 5, 2010; 3:32 PM

After hearing hype that rivaled the Super Bowl, after sweeping the supermarkets clean and stockpiling enough food for a winter's hibernation, after lining up to fill gas tanks in cars that would go nowhere for a few days, after staying home from school and work to await the moment, people peered out their windows on Friday to see the first falling flakes of the promised super snowstorm.

In many areas, those first flakes melted as they hit pavement, causing brief optimism among drivers dashing home or on last-minute errands. But with temperatures falling and more snow waiting in layers of sodden gray clouds, the streets and surrounding landscape quickly turned white.

With the fall of darkness, the forecast suggested, true blizzard conditions could descend. Often used loosely 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.

The consensus among forecasters was that there would be at least 20 inches by late Saturday, and some thought it might be a record-breaking 30 or more.

Most businesses that opened Friday began to close early. People rushed through supermarkets and liquor stores with a glazed-eye determination that rivaled their resolve on Christmas Eve in a toy store.

The District declared a snow emergency, ticketing cars parked on emergency routes and changing traffic signals to handle an early evening rush hour.

The school systems that bothered to open at all -- in the District and the Maryland counties of Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's and Anne Arundel -- sent everyone home early.

Officials everywhere urged people to hunker down at home and stay off the roads.

"We are going to be right up against the most snow this city has ever seen," said D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).

"It's not safe for anyone to be out on the roads or sidewalks at that point," said Gabe Klein, director of the District Department of Transportation.

The record was set with a 28-inch snowfall in January 1922. The big snowfall that began Dec. 19 ranked seventh, with 16.4 the official inch count.

As if to turn a lemon into lemonade, people in the Dupont Circle area decided to invite people to convene at 2 p.m. Saturday for a "totally pointless" snowball fight.

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