Washington braves the cold weather

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A farmer feeds his cattle as a light snow begins to fall in Myersville, Md. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

What little fun could be had from the inch or so of snow that fell overnight Thursday was over. Friday was a day for reckoning.

Water mains broke. Lunch trucks stayed in. Rock salt was dumped on streets and sidewalks, melded into a bleak crust. The National Weather Service felt compelled to remind the public exactly what hypothermia looks like.

Temperatures plunged to lows — 13 degrees at Reagan National Airport, 10 degrees at Dulles — that forced meteorologists to reach back to the 19th century for comparisons on that date. Lighthearted discussions of the term "bomb cyclone" turned to more serious discussions of "explosive bombogenesis."

As low as temperatures were, according to Capital Weather Gang's Jason Samenow, they didn't tell the whole story. The length of this cold snap was more remarkable, with temperatures below 35 degrees since the day after Christmas. And as it so often is, wind chill was the culprit, reaching as low as negative 10.

"It's cold enough to cause frostbite in 30 minutes," Samenow said.

No deaths have been reported — but the cold snap isn't expected to break until next week. In Prince George's County, 65-year-old Daniel DeHaven, who is nonverbal and has dementia, was reported missing Tuesday. On Friday ­afternoon, despite searches by helicopters and bloodhounds, he was still missing.

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"It's only gotten worse with the weather," Prince George's County Police Deputy Chief Sammy Patel said. "Every day that goes by, it gets more and more dire."

The homeless were, of course, also vulnerable. A spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Health said 1,900 people and 733 families were in emergency shelters Thursday night. Almost 100 people chose to sleep outside, according to DOH estimates, and are checked on nightly, the spokeswoman said.

Education also took a hit. In the District's suburbs, Thursday's ill-timed snow day came just after the new year stretched into Friday, pushing some parents to the limit.

Amanda Ponzar, who has a kindergartner and a fourth-grader in Fairfax County Public Schools, pointed out that her children were off 17 days for winter break, then back for two days before being off for two more. She was shocked by the decision to close schools for a small amount of snow on Thursday and then again for wind chill on Friday.

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"I'm sorry — it's windy?" she said. "You don't close school for 'windy.' "

But all suburban districts did close, or at least began two hours late. (No snow day for you, D.C. Public Schools students.)

If the traffic volume was light as a result of children kept home, commutes were complicated by water main breaks — enough for 40 crews to stay busy, according to the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. One, at Virginia Avenue and Rock Creek Parkway near the entrance to Interstate 66, left a sheet of ice over a major intersection.

Nor was every highway clear. Early Friday, icy patches of snow covered parts of U.S. 50 in Maryland as drivers traveled 40 mph through a landscape perhaps best compared to Green Bay, Wis. Even worse: In Easton, Md., bingo night was canceled in one community.

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Meanwhile, reporters asking people on the street about the weather had the ink in their pens freeze.

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At the corner of Vermont Avenue and K Street NW, Wang Show faced a conundrum. As anyone who walked by the table she'd minded for a quarter-century could see, she sold hats, gloves and scarves. And Friday, if nothing else, was great hat-glove-and-scarf-selling weather.

"It's a good chance for me," she said. "It's cold; come buy!"

Yet the temperatures that might give a body the notion to buy a hat also kept people off the streets.

As Wang herself remarked moments before a woman haggled the price of an $8 pair of gloves down to $5: "There are not many people, so business is so-so."

On the Mall, Melanie Perez stood on the frozen Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool where, despite officials' concerns, visitors walked and even skated on the ice. She had come to Washington for a reason some might find hard to fathom this week: "Just to get away from Miami," she said.

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Though frozen iguanas are falling from the trees in Florida, temperatures there were at least hovering around the balmy 40-degree mark. Still, Perez was excited to be here, in the great north.

"If I want to be warm, I can go back to the hotel," she said.

Other out-of-towners were not so game. In front of the White House, Martha Garcia and Aaron Flores, both from Southern California, shivered in unfamiliar parkas.

"I did my research," Garcia said. "I packed well."

For Flores, however, no amount of preparation was enough.

"This is climate shock," he said.

Susan Hogan, Peter Jamison, Lynh Bui and Perry Stein contributed to this report.

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