Cold rain froze on cold pavements here last night, coating roads, streets and sidewalks with treacherous films of ice over which homebound motorists and pedestrians alike slid, slipped and skidded.
"It's extremely bad," said a D.C. police dispatcher. "We're getting calls for accidents and icy conditions all over the city. Just about anywhere you can name, we got problems."
Although there were no immediate reports of major traffic accidents, there were numerous accounts of minor collisions of the fender-bender variety.
Ice-caused tieups were reported throughout the suburbs, particularly on such major arteries as the Capital Beltway, Rte. I-95, Rte. 270 and the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
In Washington, a traffic accident and icy conditions combined to close the steep section of Massachusetts Avenue NW from Wisconsin Avenue to Ward Circle from 5 to 5:30 p.m.
Although sand and salt were spread on the slick roadway afterward, many motorists continued to find the avenue impassable, a police dispatcher said.
The ice storm was one more manifestation of what meterologists and average citizens have recognized as one of the most severe winters to grip the Washington area - and much of the rest of the nation - in many years.
However, today's temperatures were expected to rise into the 40s, offering some prospect of momentary relief.
"I hope we can make it," said National Weather Service forecaster Jack Fuge. He said that today offered the "last chance" for days for temperatures high enough to melt the area's blanket of ice and snow.
"There's a lot of real cold air coming in," Fuge said, noting that if there is no thaw today, "we're stuck."
Reinforcing his prediction was that of Dr. Donald Gilman, the government's chief long-range weather forecaster, who said below normal temperatures would continue in much of the Northeast for the next 30 days.
He explained that wind patterns that have been established in the upper atmosphere are keeping much of the United States overly supplied with frigid air from Alaska and the Arctic region.
This high level change has had a variety of effects throughout the nation, including depletion of rock salt supplies and freezing of many vital waterways.
"We are surrounded by ice," said Mayor Robert Thorne, on Tangier Island in the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay. "It's the worst the bay has been frozen in my 34 years."
Hundreds of watermen of Tilghmand Island said they are financially pinched because ice has kept them from oystering.
"What we should be getting is diaster relief," one tonger was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel said he had asked civil defense officials for a report to determine if the state would be eligible for federal aid because of economic losses by the freezing of the bay.
Meanwhile the Coast Guard reported that two oil barges that had been trapped in bay ice were freed yesterday without loss of the more than one million gallons of fuel oil on board.
Accumulations of ice and snow have depleted rock salt supplies in many areas. One Virginia state highway engineer said that "we're just living from day to day. The roads have been too hazzardous for the truckers (delivering the salt) to get through."
With natural gas supplies also running low in some sections, Virginia consumers were aided yesterday by a Federal Power Commission decision that will permit the Transcontinental Pipeline Co., one of the state's main suppliers, to purchase emergency supplies from a Houston, Tex., company.
Without the additional gas, Danville and Martinsville, Va., would not have enough fuel on hand to continue supplying homes, according to Louis Lawson, of the state energy office.
Also expected to feel the impact of the unusual cold is the area's bird population. The Audobon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase recommended leaving seed or bread crumbs on ledges and sills and by furnishing heated bird baths for drinking water.
Yesterday's weather gave Washington residents a sample of virtually every possible type of precipitation, starting with snow flurries in the morning, and including sleet, freezing rain and rain.
In warm sections of downtown, the evening rain appeared to be melting some of the accumulated ice. However, in many spots it formed ice on contact with pavement that had been subjected to days of freezing temperatures.
Forecasters also explained that the rain lost heat as it fell through cold dry layers of air close to the ground.
Ice on the runways at Dulles International Airport yesterday forced an Air France Concorde supersonic jet to land instead at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
The jet, which landed at BWI at 6:30 p.m., carried 37 passengers and will be flown to Dulles today, according to an airline spokesman.