Winter returned to the Washington area yesterday with snow and freezing temperatures that repudiated the hints of spring given earlier in the week and made roads slick and treacherous, causing numerous minor traffic accidents.
Striking hardest in the southern parts of the area, the storm triggered snow emergency plans in Prince George's County, heaped five inches of snow on Fredericksburg and Fauquier County, and brought three inches to National Airport, with as much as two more inches expected by morning.
Sweeping out of the southeast as February faded, the snowstorm covered both Lynchburg and Roanoke with 11 inches, and boosted Washington's total snowfall figure for this bitter winter well over the 20-inch mark.
Although spring seemed far away as flakes fell last night, the area was not deprived of all benefit of the warm and sunny spell that brought temperatures here into the 50s last week. While snow quickly covered car tops and grassy areas yesterday, enough warmth remained in street and road surfaces to keep snow from accumulating for hours after it began.
Last night, however, as temperatures sank below freezing, pavement became slick and icy. In Northern Virginia, the Capital Beltway and Interstate 95 were "becoming very hazardous," reported a state police dispatcher in Alexandria.
Although there had been no serious accidents, there were "a lot of 'em," the dispatcher added.
In Fauquier County, the sheriff's office reported that with five inches of snow on the ground, roads were "slick and hazardous," and the county police in Prince William reported a "fair share of fender-benders."
With Washington on the edge of the storm's track, snowfall figures varied considerably across the area. While "half a foot" was reported by citizens in southern sections of Prince George's, according to the National Weather Service, by late last night no snow had been reported at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Dulles had reported one inch and the first flakes had just begun drifting down in Laurel.
Similarly, District streets were slickest in far Southeast, said Jack Smallwood, snow coordinator for the city's transportation department.
About 20 trucks were rumbling through the District's streets last night spreading abrasive materials on slick stretches, Smallwood said.
In Henry County, Va., one traffic death was described as weather related. A Bassett, Va., man was killed when his Jeep slid off Rte. 687 and rolled over an embankment south of Bassett Saturday morning.
Runways at National Airport remained clear throughout the day, according to a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, and airplanes continued to land and take off in swirling snow.
Most of the snow is expected to end by this morning, but flurries are still possible tonight and early tomorrow, according to the weather service.
A weather service forecaster blamed a mass of frigid air from Alaska and northern reaches of Canada for banishing the warm weather from much of the nation this week. Slashing as far south as the Gulf Coast, he said, it drove temperatures in the southeast, which had soared as high as the 80s, back down to freezing levels. Fronts associated with the cold air spawned the snow, the forecaster said.
The three inches recorded at National yesterday evening brought February's snowfall total here to 5.4 inches. Added to the 15 inches measured last month and the 1.7 inches in December, that brought the winter's total to 22.1 inches.