Potential winter storm puts Washington in preparation mode

Remember last February's back-to-back blizzards and the dozens of inches of snow they left behind? Although the snow scenes were strikingly beautiful, their effects presented real challenges: how to keep warm, get around and get basic news. Of course, future predictions cannot be made from past experiences, but forewarned is forearmed.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 31, 2011; 10:05 PM

Washington area power, transportation and government officials set plans in motion Monday in anticipation of another winter storm expected to slam into the region Tuesday.

Sleet and freezing rain were expected to hit some parts of the area Monday night, with the worst of the inclement weather forecast for west of the District. The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory Monday afternoon that was set to take effect at midnight and extend through noon Tuesday. Temperatures were expected to drop to the mid-20s Monday night and stay near freezing Tuesday morning, and travelers were warned to beware of treacherous conditions.

More bad weather is expected to converge on the area late Tuesday.

By 1 p.m. Monday, the federal government had announced on the Office of Personnel Management Web site that workers could take unscheduled leave or work from home Tuesday because of the impending weather. "This early announcement gives employees and managers the flexibility to stay safe and keep our government working," OPM Director John Berry said in a statement.

Power companies reported that they had kept additional manpower deployed after last week's storm, which at its height had left some 700,000 Washington area residents without power. At Pepco, where 210,000 customers lost power in last week's storm and many remained without power for three days, employees, contractors and "mutual assistance" workers from as far away as South Carolina remained on standby to help with Tuesday's storm, Pepco spokesman Clay Anderson said.

"We are still in storm mode," he said. "We are still in position."

As of Monday afternoon, 52 Pepco customers were still without power after last week's storm. Anderson said power company officials who complained that restoration efforts were stymied by heavy snow and ice kept three staging areas open to address Tuesday's anticipated bad weather - in Forestville and Rockville, and at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg. Anderson said more than 1,000 workers were prepared for deployment, with more scheduled to arrive Monday.

Daisy Pridgen, a spokeswoman for Dominion Virginia Power, said meteorologists for the company were tracking the storm, including the first round Monday night that was expected to bring freezing rain, sleet and snow, and a second punch Tuesday afternoon or evening. Weather officials are reporting "a threat of ice in the Leesburg area, which is not good for power lines," Pridgen said. In response, she said, workers have been deployed to the area so they can respond quickly.

Pridgen said officials late Monday afternoon were waiting to see where the storm would hit hardest before establishing a command center from which to deploy workers.

"There is one thing that we would like to get across, and that is that if customers experience an outage, they should report it immediately," she said.

Prince George's County police, who reported a 50 percent jump in calls for service at the height of the storm last week, said police would step up patrols in blacked-out neighborhoods in the event of power outages. Prince George's officials and those in other jurisdictions urged residents to establish a plan to keep their families safe.

"You should have a full tank of gas in your car, batteries and a radio to hear news reports," said Sgt. Kim Chinn, spokeswoman for the Prince William County police. "You should have phone numbers for the utilities, in case you need to call, and have food and water or a place to go if you lose power."

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