An early nor’easter swept through the Washington region Saturday, drowning much of the area in a frigid mix of sleet and rain and affording a few area residents the rare opportunity to build a snowman in October.
Parts of western Loudoun and northern Montgomery counties saw snow accumulations of up to four inches, and the District was subjected to a bone-chilling downpour that gave way to fat snowflakes late in the day.
Although the metropolitan region escaped the brunt of the storm, parts of western Maryland were buried in more than nine inches of snow, and a West Virginia peak — the aptly named Mount Storm — was pummeled with 14 inches.
As winter conditions descended across the central Appalachians, and expanded into into the mid-Atlantic states, about 2.3 million homes and businesses lost power across New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts, according to the Associated Press. More than 600,000 of the outages were reported in New Jersey alone.
“It is unusual to have a storm of this intensity affect the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast” at this time of year, said National Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro. “This is more like a February storm as opposed to an October storm.”
Precipitation in Washington tapered off Saturday evening as the storm tracked toward the north and east, where it was predicted to dump five to 10 inches across wide swaths of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and New England.
New York’s Central Park was blanketed with 1.3 inches of snow Saturday afternoon, making this the snowiest October there since record-keeping began in 1869.
The wintry mix began falling Friday night in rural areas west and north of the District, coating fields and woods with a glaze of snow and ice.
Some roads became slick as precipitation continued Saturday. Cars slipped and slid here and there, in such spots as northern Montgomery County, particularly as night fell and temperatures declined, but no serious injuries were reported immediately. Early Sunday morning, ice and slippery conditions closed the George Mason Drive overpass over Interstate 66 in Arlington.
Reagan National Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport reported a high of 42 degrees Saturday, and Dulles made it to 39 — the coldest Oct. 29 temperatures on record, said Capitol Weather Gang meteorologist Jason Samenow.
On average, Washington has historically received its first snowfall of an inch or more on Dec. 29, Samenow said. And snow has fallen in October in Washington only 15 times since the late 1800s.
This storm was “very elevation-dependent,” he said, “so the higher up you happened to be, the more snow you tended to get. As you got closer and closer to sea level, the amounts dwindled quickly.”
The weather service received a report of 11.5 inches at one spot in Frederick County, and 7.8 inches at a location in Carroll County. In Loudoun County, 4.5 inches was reported in Bluemont.
Some people waited out the storm, but plenty of folks proved their mettle by heading outside.
In Loudoun’s tiny Unison, Va., where snow and slush piled on cars and streets, people gathered for an annual heritage festival on the steps of an old store.
They munched sandwiches and pet the hounds brought in by the local Piedmont Hunt.
Local people “spend a lot of their time outside anyway, with the horses and everything, so it doesn’t really bother us,” said Owen Snyder, secretary of the Unison Preservation Society. “It’s kinda fun. You gotta do it.”
About 50 hardy souls waded into the Anacostia River near Bladensburg for a trash cleanup. After two hours, of rain, sleet and snow they had collected enough trash to fill a pickup. p.
“Our volunteers came back completely drenched,” said Sarah Hyman, a spokeswoman for the the sponsor, the nonprofit advocacy group Environment America.
Skyline Drive leaf-peepers were frustrated as conditions forced the Shenandoah National Park sightseeing road to close.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park closed three hours early as slush and fallen tree limbs impeded road travel.
Mountainsides showed off the joint beauty of two seasons, park staff said as autumn colors showed under snow.
Vaccaro, the Weather Service spokesman, said the fact that leaves remain on trees across the Northeast creates a particular problem as the storm continues to strengthen in New England.
He said the weight of wet, sticky snow captured on leaves, along with the risk of high winds, meant a “quite high” risk of trees falling on homes or power lines, he said.