Washington area residents slushed their way through snow, sleet and driving rain yesterday without any significant transportation problems, partly because many area schools were closed and many local governments were operating on liberal leave policies.
Metro officials said rail ridership was lighter than usual. Only 264,985 riders had passed through the system by midafternoon, about 10,000 fewer than usual for a wintertime Friday, said spokeswoman Marilyn Dicus.
In downtown Washington, there were empty tables at some restaurants that normally are filled during the lunch hour. City streets appeared to have less traffic than usual. Even umbrella vendors reported thinner-than-usual crowds.
"It's a little slow," said Papin Diallo, whose clothing stand near Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW was draped in plastic to protect the goods from the steady afternoon rainfall. Diallo said he had sold 30 umbrellas by 3 p.m. yesterday, compared with his one-day record of 100.
Yesterday's dreary weather began shortly after midnight, when a surge of moisture from a storm across Tennessee and Alabama raced into the Washington area and dumped two inches of snow on the city and three to four inches on the far western suburbs, according to weather forecasters.
By midmorning the snow had turned to freezing rain. "But we were lucky," said meteorologist Brian Smith of the National Weather Service, because rising temperatures quickly changed the precipitation into rain that began melting the snow and ice on the ground.
The rain continued last night and was heavy at times, causing large puddles in some areas that sometimes interfered with driving. Fog also was expected to add to hazardous driving conditions late last night and early this morning. But temperatures, which remained at about 35 degrees yesterday, were expected to stay above freezing.
"There may be problems in low-lying areas with rising waters, but I hesitate to say flooding," Smith said. He said that areas west and north of Washington are most likely to experience problems because they are closer to the mountains and have had more snow.
Montgomery County officials said last night's heavy rainfall might cause flooding in some areas, particularly along River Road in Bethesda and East West Highway near Beach Drive.
Another area prone to flooding is Watkins Mill Road in Gaithersburg, where a one-lane bridge frequently is washed out by high water, officials said.
By late afternoon yesterday, local and state police had reported about 70 accidents in Northern Virginia, compared with more than 100 accidents recorded during Monday's snowstorm. One accident occurred at 11:20 a.m., when the driver of a Jeep Wagoneer traveling north on Route 15 near Lucketts in Loudoun County lost control of his vehicle. A southbound tractor-trailer went into a ditch to avoid hitting the Jeep.
The state trooper who investigated the accident said that the road was "slushy and icy," according to Lucy Caldwell, state police spokeswoman. She said the two drivers, who were wearing seat belts, were not injured.
In the District, schools opened two hours late, and the delayed arrival policy for D.C. workers went into effect. Under the plan, workers are allowed two additional hours to get to work without being penalized.
The Department of Public Works ordered its trucks out at 3 a.m., soon after snow started falling. By the morning rush hour, all snow emergency routes had been cleared, said department spokeswoman Tara Hamilton.
Staff writers Gabriel Escobar, Veronica Jennings and Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.