Two winter storms, one from the South and one from the West, dumped sleet and freezing rain on the Washington metropolitan area early yesterday, causing dozens of accidents and slowing traffic considerably.
Area police, while advising motorists not to go out unless they had to, reported numerous accidents, including one involving eight cars on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, as roads quickly became icy and hazardous.
Road crews were on the streets in Washington, Maryland and Virginia almost before the sleet hit the area at about 7 a.m., having been kept on stand-by because the storms were predicted.
Although all main roads were swept, sanded and salted, they remained extremely slippery even when the sleet turned to rain in the afternoon. Some side roads were impassable and most were hazardous at best, according to police.
D.C. police reported light traffic and several dozen minor accidents during the day. Arlene Billings of the D.C. Mayor's Command Center said that 88 trucks were on city streets shortly after 7 a.m., spreading chemicals on the roads.
"Until the temperature comes up and melts some of this ice things won't get much better," she said. "The rain will be a relief."
Although the weather service had forecast warmer temperatures by afternoon, the temperature hovered around freezing in the northern and western areas.
Power outages were scattered throughout the area last night as iceladen tree limbs fell and snapped power lines, reports said.
About 20 persons were evacuated about 8:30 p.m. from a three-story apartment building at 209 Atlantic St. SE, where water drenched seven units, fire officials reported. Workers repairing the roof had not covered holes adequately, one official said.
Weather forecaster John Fuge said yesterday that the morning storm should be the worst weather of the weekend because warmer temperatures were expected during the evening and all day today.
Twelve road crews of about 10 men each patrolled Fairfax and Arlington counties while 743 pieces of equipment were deployed throughout Maryland to keep roads clear.
Yesterday's storm marked the second consecutive Saturday marred by sleet and slushy conditions, cutting down considerably on crowds at shopping centers and in restaurants throughout the area.
"Actually it makes it easier for most people for a storm to happen on a weekend," Billings said. "People don't have to worry about whether or not to go to work and fight traffic, and schools don't have to worry about traffic."
A light dusting of snow fell in Western Maryland but the Washington area was untouched by snow and Fuge said none was expected before Thursday.
In the meantime, motorists who did venture onto the glass-like roads often regretted it. Lonnie Levine of Fairfax, after spending 15 minutes scraping ice off his windows, could not get his car up a small hill leading out of his apartment complex.
Three times he tried and three times he failed. Finally he backed the car around the circular driveway to Lee Highway, then backed cautiously onto the road and drove off.
Tow truck operators in the area were telling motorists that they would have to wait as long as two or three hours for help because business was so brisk.
"This is worse than snow in some ways," one driver said, "because people don't realize how hazardous it is and are more apt to make mistakes."
Driving is expected to be hazardous again today, especially in the northern and western suburbs of Virginia and Maryland.