Snow and ice on highways caused hundreds of minor traffic accidents and briefly closed portions of I-95 yesterday. High winds -- with a chill factor of near zero degrees -- not only downed trees and power lines, but also were blamed for setting off a bomb in an Aberdeen, Md., home.
And winter doesn't officially arrive for another month -- Dec. 22.
The Washington area yesterday was gripped by unseasonably low temperatures and northwest wind gusts up to 45 miles per hour as Canadian storms from two directions collided over the Northeast yesterday.
The high winds toppled trees onto power lines throughout the region, leaving many residents powerless for hours. Snow squalls forced Baltimore to call off its annual Thanksgiving parade. It reached only 32 degrees at Washington National Airport.
"We had quite a few outages due to the high winds in Fairfax and Alexandria," reported Bob Copper, an operations supervisior for Virginia Power. Copper said that by 4:30 p.m. yesterday the utility had only "scattered outages of about 100 customers."
Earlier in the day, crews had restored power to parts of Braddock Road in Annandale, large areas in Great Falls, and other parts of Fairfax and Alexandria.
Potomac Electric Power Co.'s Tom Welle said that 1,400 customers in the Northeast Washington subdivision of Fort Slocum were without electricity early yesterday morning.
In Gaithersburg, more than 2,900 homes were without service at various times throughout the day after falling branches caused shorts in the line which blew out fuses on the light poles. Each fuse had to be replaced manually.
About 1,200 customers were without electricity in Potomac. Troubleshooters traced the problem to a transformer on Old Coach Road and had restored most of the power by 8:30 p.m.
The gusty winds caused embarrassment and possible legal trouble for an Army sergeant.
Authorities said that Sgt. Robert H. Vogel, 29, an explosives technician at the Army's Edgewood arsenal, reportedly rigged a bomb inside his garage to protect his motorcycle from burglars while he was away on a training assignment in Alabama.
But high winds, rather than a would-be thief, detonated the device, rattling neighbors' windows and causing about $500 in damage. No injuries were reported, but Vogel could be charged in the incident by the state or the Army, officials said.
Despite the arrival of a number of participants, and with less than an hour before the annual Thanksgiving parade was to begin, Baltimore officials called off the event because of snow squalls -- brief, heavy snow flurries with high winds.
Low early morning temperatures were blamed for icy road conditions that briefly forced the closing of parts of I-95 in Laurel, and in Baltimore, police said they received reports of at least 200 minor accidents before they stopped counting. Slippery conditions were also reported in upper Montgomery County on I-270 near the Frederick County line.
Seven Maryland counties put into effect snow emergency programs but only two, Garrett and Carroll counties, continued the programs beyond noon. Flurries were widespread but only amounted to from 1 to 3 inches of snow in the northern-most reaches of the area. However, temperatures dropped to the mid-20s while gusts pushed the wind-chill factor down to near zero degrees.
But the news was not all cold. Local real estate developer Andy Bahr donated 100 L.L. Bean sleeping bags to the Community for Creative Non-Violence. Last night, the bags, good down to zero degrees, were dropped off at various shelters throughout the District.
While most of the city's shelters were filling to capacity, another man found similar inspiration last night. At 9 p.m., Harold Moss, a CCNV volunteer for the past decade, answered a call from a man who offered overnight space in his Michigan Avenue NE apartment for as many as five people.
"It really moved me that a private citizen would call me and open up his home to homeless people," Moss said. "I think he sets an example of how the private citizen can respond when it's cold and help the homeless. I took two people over there right away."
The outlook for today is better with sunny skies, winds from 10 to 15 mph and temperatures expected to hit the mid-40s. Monday's forecast calls for fair skies, with afternoon temperatures reaching 60 degrees, dropping down to the mid-40s for Monday night's Redskins game at RFK Stadium.
Yesterday's blustery weather kept many tourists away from the Mall and ruined business for street vendors.
Thon Ban of Arlington sat in his aluminium world of hot dogs, reading the newspaper and watching his breath.
"I've only sold six or seven hot dogs and 10 cups of hot chocolate today," Ban complained. "It's really slow. It's too cold, I guess."