The aftereffects of the third largest snowstorm in Washington this century eased yesterday, although thousands of Washingtonians found that traveling throughout the area was not always easy. They did get an unexpected Valentine's Day present, however, when predicted sleet and freezing rain failed to materialize.
But just as some commuters struggled to return to their weekday routine, thousands of District residents faced power and telephone outages that apparently were caused by the severe weekend weather.
A burst frozen water pipe showered telephone switching equipment near Dupont Circle yesterday morning, intermittently shorting out service to more than 40,000 customers around Dupont Circle and eastward into the Shaw community, according to the C&P Telephone Co. As of last night, the periodic outages were continuing but phone company officials hoped to have full service restored by midmorning today.
A 13,000-volt circuit breaker at a Pepco substation at 33rd and K streets NW blew out at 3:37 p.m., knocking out power to 3,600 customers in the Georgetown-Foggy Bottom area, including the Kennedy Center and the Watergate complex. Officials said the blackout, apparently caused by melting snow, also affected a portion of the area along Lee Highway in Northern Virginia. All power was restored by 7:30 p.m.
Homebound commuter traffic, already slowed by the remains of the snowstorm and illegally parked cars, was further tangled as stoplights malfunctioned in the areas where the power was out.
As some commuters returned to work yesterday after a three-day hiatus to cope with Friday's blizzard, they found that getting to and from the office was slow. Others, including about 50 to 60 percent of the some 360,000 federal and District of Columbia government employes, simply extended their winter holiday and stayed home.
Some commuters found that their regular half-hour to hour-long rush-hour trips were doubled in length as cars and buses inched their way into and out of the city on streets and highways that were narrowed by plowed snow.
Most of Metro's above-ground portions of the subway system were not in operation yesterday morning because of iced rails, and only 80 to 90 percent of the 1,500 buses normally used in rush hours were in operation.
But there also was good news for the besieged metropolitan region, where some areas were blanketed with up to two feet of snow during the storm. The predicted sleet and freezing rain that were expected to cover the Washington area by midmorning instead stayed in the Carolinas and the storm slid out to sea. Moreover, today is expected to be sunny, with temperatures possibly reaching into the high 40s.
By midafternoon yesterday, Metro reopened its entire 39-mile subway system and expects all lines to be operating today. In addition, Metro expects its full complement of buses to be ferrying commuters this morning.
However, Metro spokeswoman Marilyn Dicus said that bus drivers, at their discretion, may still bypass some particularly treacherous streets on their regular routes if conditions warrant it.
All Virginia commuters will again be allowed to use the car-pool lanes during rush hours on Interstate Rtes. 395 (Shirley Highway) and 66.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) said, however, that unlike yesterday, federal workers are expected to work a normal shift today and that liberal leave will not be granted. The District of Columbia government, where 40 percent of the 30,000 employes showed up for work yesterday, said city workers also are expected to report on time today.
OPM spokesman Pat Korten said a spot check of various federal agencies showed that attendance varied widely, but apparently about 45 to 50 percent of the 330,000 Washington-area federal workers showed up at the office. He said the figures varied widely between agencies. For example only about 5 percent of the 700 employes at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission came to work, but 90 percent showed up at the National Security Agency. The Justice Department only had 20 percent of its 15,000 workers in the office, but 70 percent of the 17,000-member Commerce Department staff made it to work.
The condition of Washington-area roads varied widely. Major highways generally were clear, except for occasional icy patches and some lanes that narrowed where snowplow operators found they had no place else to shove the snow.
But residential streets often remained unplowed throughout the area. D.C. Transportation Director Thomas Downs said that about 100 miles of residential streets in the District had not been plowed at all by midday, oftentimes because motorists abandoned cars during the height of the snowfall, which offically was measured at just shy of 17 inches.
Virginia and Maryland highway officials also turned their attention yesterday to clearing subdivision streets that had been neglected while snow-clearing attention was focused on major highways.
"There are a lot of places we haven't gotten to yet," said David Gehr, a Virginia highway offical. "We promise [callers] that before we quit, we will have gotten to them. Some people expect the street in front of their house to be cleared right after the snow stops."
Downs said the major problem facing commuters traveling downtown along such major arteries as Connecticut Avenue, 13th and 16th streets NW and C Street and Constitution Avenue NE was that some drivers parked their cars along these streets after they had been cleared of snow, when in fact they are snow emergency routes where parking is still prohibited.
District tow trucks relocated an estimated 100 of these illegally parked cars to nearby streets, but police also ticketed the cars, often times giving unsuspecting motorists separate $25 citations for parking in rush hour zones, restricted snow emergency areas and for double parking. By this morning, city officials say that such illegally parked cars will be towed to city impoundment lots.
Arlington also began ticketing and towing cars yesterday.
Some suburbanites were dismayed to find that the streets and thoroughfares near their homes were more clear of snow than those they encountered when they arrived in the District of Columbia. It was a charge that Downs emphatically denied, calling it "an old saw."
But until afternoon, when the temperature reached 42 degrees and allowed some snow to melt, packed snow and slush covered several major downtown streets and slowed traffic.
"Our snow removal was better this time, without a doubt, than in the suburbs," Downs declared.
He said that the downtown area, where slushy streets were a common sight, was plowed four times since the storm started, including twice on Sunday night. However, he said that with continual heavy traffic on the downtown streets, much of the snow and ice was packed tight to the pavement and could not be scraped off with plows.
The power outage briefly trapped five people in elevators at the Columbia Plaza office and apartment complex on Virginia Avenue NW, according to residential manager Mary Sands, but they were freed by fire department rescue squads within minutes.
"Happy Valentine's Day," Sands said, greeting one group of residents returning home at dusk. "There are no lights. I can give you a candle and a match. That'll get you up the stairwell."
At the 13-story Watergate complex nearby, hotel manager Dennis K. Dowse said he hoped to have "an employe on every floor with a flashlight." He said the hotel had three or four lights operating on each floor powered by emergency gasoline generators.
The power failure, he said, "is just one more thing after the snow."
Dowse said no guests were stuck on elevators. "There was one employe on the service elevator. He pried the doors open," he said.
The hotel manager said he thought that a banquet scheduled for last night might be canceled but otherwise the well-heeled guests continued to check into the hotel in the dark and head straight for the bar.
Residents walked the streets of Georgetown with candles and flashlights as a few of the curious shuffled down the snowpacked sidewalks taking in the scene. "It's almost like Halloween," said one woman, as she passed two men carrying candles.