The current erratic nationwide storm, which brought freezing rain, bursts of sunshine, and traces of snow to the Washington area yesterday, has also plunged local temperatures to what could be the coldest for January in more than a decade, weather officials report.
The eight inches of snow here this month is nearly double the average snowfall for January, while the average temperature this month is 27 degrees, compared to the normal 35, the officials said.
The National Weather Service predicted that freezing temperatures today will lay sheets of ice over area streets and sidewalks, while winds gusting up to 30 miles per hour will play havoc with ice-laden tree branches and shrubs.
The Weather Service's extended forecast calls for variable cloudiness and very cold temperatures through Friday. No snow or rain is expected.
The winter weather system spawned a blizzard yesterday in the Midwest, and dropped a foot of snow in New England. Natural gas company officials in Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, and elsewhere limited natural gas distribution to industries because they felt schools and homes might need the fuel more if the freezing weather continues.
Ironically, weather stations in the Artic Circle, which normally experience minus-25 degree weather in January, yesterday recorded a comparatively balmy plus-40 degree day.
Weather forecaster Charles Chilton said the current "unstable weather pattern is not all that uncommon" for this time of the year. The cold air system moving toward Washington from the mountains of West Virginia often combines with cold air moving south from Canada to produce the chilling weather conditions the metropolitan area is now experiencing, he said.
The Washington area normally receives 4.7 inches of snow during January, with the record monthly snowfall of 21.3 inches occurring in January 1966, according to a spokesman at the National Climatic Center in Asheville, N.C. A total of 8.7 inches fell in the last nine days.
Traces of snow whirled through the Washington area Monday, although as much as four additional inches of snow blanketed some suburban areas late Sunday night, weather officials reported.
A freezing rain that began falling after midnight Sunday laid a dangerous glaze of ice on the fresh snow, causing some school closings and personal inconvenience, but no major traffic accidents, officials throughout the area reported.
All Northern Virginia public schools were closed yesterday because of the slippery roads and crosswalks. School officials said they would not decide until early today whether schools will reopen this morning.
The northward-moving storm affected Northern Virginia more dramatically than it did the District of Maryland, where schools opened no more than 90 minutes later than normal.
Unlike last week's storms, which led to widespread office closings and employee absenteeism, yesterday's slashing winds and sporadic snow flurries did not seem to deter people from their personal routine.
"Oh, you just get out there and pound on the ice until it breaks," said Karen Duvall, 19, of 9471 Arlington Blvd., Fairfax, as she worked to clear the windows of ice-encased Pinto.
After a few minutes of pounding and scraping the ice, she drove to her business administration classes at Northern Virginia Community College.
"I'm probably going to use chains on my tires," said Kathy Rich, 22, of 9469 Arlington Blvd., who planned on delivering Virginia Yellow Pages to area homeowners yesterday afternoon. "Some of the side roads here are in terrible shape," she said.
Virginia state highway officials had previously labeled the area's secondary roads as "dangerous" due to the icy conditions.
For Larry Ingram, a State Department employee who lives in Mantua, driving is something left to the Metrobus system. "It's always right on schedule," said Ingram, as he sat in a passenger waiting area, ice forming on his moustache. "It's a 30-minute ride from here to Rosslyn, where I work, and costs 95 cents," he said.
The bus arrived shortly afterwards, and Ingram was on his way.
Local highway officials said most major and secondary roads were passable after road crews dumped tons of salt and sand throughout the metropolitan area Sunday and yesterday.
A Virginia Highway Department spokesman said 6,500 tons of salt and 5,800 tons of sand have been spread over the roads in Fairfax County since last Wednesday.
Some highway officials said they were using their salt sparingly for fear of running out of the chemical.
"We are short on salt," said state highway official Donald Keith. "We've been hauling (salt to Virginia from Baltimore) Saturdays and Sundays . . . but the supply is short and trucking is short . . . these three storms in a row have caught everybody short . . ."
The American Automobile Association reported 1,570 requests for service yesterday, "an average number for a bad weather day," a spokesman said.
The Potamac Electric Power Co. (Pepco) reported several power failures yesterday in Northwest Washington that affected several hundred homes, a spokesman said. The failures, caused by snow-laden tree limbs sagging on power lines, were repaired within several hours, he said.
The Fairfax County Water Authority reported several water main breaks yesterday throughout the county, although a spokesman said the breaks reportedly did little damage and were quickly repaired.