The most significant snowfall in the Washington region since the infamous “Snowmageddon” of 2010 descended with a double bite Thursday, punctuating a winter already cold, harsh and relentless.
The weather had a familiar, nasty character, beginning overnight and into the morning with snow, then turning to sleet and rain in many places. A few hours after that ended — barely time enough for sidewalk clearing and the digging out of cars — the snow returned for a second round. The Capital Weather Gang’s Dan Stillman said most areas in and around the District picked up another 1 to 3 inches of snow before the storm moved out of the region late Thursday.
The effects were still being felt Friday, the federal government was opening two hours later than usual and nearly all public schools in the region were closed. Metrobus, which was suspended operations Thursday afternoon because of weather conditions, was to resume at 5 a.m. Friday only on selected major arterials.
Reagan National and Dulles International airports both reported late Thursday that operations were expected to ramp up Friday, but warned that some flights, especially Friday morning, could be canceled or delayed.
The heavy snowfall that began late Wednesday shut down the federal government on Thursday, brought air travel to a halt and kept the bulk of the region’s residents at home.
The storm was linked to at least three deaths. A Virginia Department of Transportation contract truck driver working to clear roads died after he was struck by another VDOT truck in Ashburn. Virginia State Police said Lovo Guevara Geovany Arnoldo, 32, of Vienna pulled off the road and was standing behind his truck when he was hit by the second VDOT truck.
In Howard County, Md., two men in their 50s died after collapsing while shoveling snow, one in Woodstock and the other in Columbia, said Marc Fischer, a spokesman for Howard’s fire and rescue department. A third man was found dead outside, but officials did not know how he had died. Autopsies were expected to be performed Friday.
“This is deep, heavy snow, and I implore everyone to take it easy,” Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said in a news release. “Please don’t over-exert yourself. Clear a little at a time.”
By Thursday evening, many of the region’s major school systems had announced they would be closed for a second day Friday, creating a five-day vacation for schoolchildren, who have Monday off for President’s Day.
For 17-month-old Evalyn Heyman, Thursday brought her first real frolic in the snow. “She loves it,” Leigh Heyman, 42, said as his daughter played on 13th Street in Northwest Washington. “She clearly has Northern parents. She got the whole walking-on-ice thing pretty quickly.”
The winter weather was forecast to persist into the pre-dawn hours of Friday. Sunshine was expected to bring some melting during the day, but there was the prospect of more light snow later Friday and on Saturday.
Even before the second round of snow Thursday, Dulles International Airport had recorded more than a foot of snow; Olney, Md., had 15 inches; eight inches had come down on Northeast D.C.; seven in Alexandria; 16 in Germantown, Md.; and 13 in Oakton, Va. Snowfall generally was lighter to the east of the District, although Crofton, Md., had eight inches.
The bad weather spread across the eastern states, bombarding them with the same snow and ice that paralyzed much of the South on Wednesday. More than 6,000 flights were canceled, most of them in Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York and the Washington region’s three major airports.
Power outages were surprisingly absent through much of Thursday, but utility companies stood ready overnight if ice and freezing rain topped the heavy snow to bring down lines. As of 8 p.m., Pepco reported a total of about 4,000 outages in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, along with the District. Dominion and Baltimore Gas and Electric had only a few hundred outages between them.
In a region given to bashing weather forecasters for getting it wrong, there was little for the cynics to complain about this time.
“I never really believed it,” James Beaner, 40, said of the forecast. “I didn’t think it was going to stop anyone from doing anything.”
Almost 1,000 flights from the region’s airports were canceled Thursday, and the Brock family had planned to be on one of them. The snow hardly curbed their excitement as they waited at Reagan National Airport in hope of getting a flight to their vacation in Miami.
Still, Heidi Brock, 50, was thankful for being in a “great entertainment spot” for her young son, motioning to the snow removal process in progress on the closed runways.
“With a 6-year-old boy, there’s nothing more interesting than airplanes and dump trucks,” she said.
American Airlines Flight 1575 was the only one to Chicago that had not been canceled.
When the flight crew arrived about an hour before the 5:20 p.m. scheduled departure, the passengers started to cheer.
“It’s crazy to see all the cancellations, and then ours is the only one on schedule,” said Matt Bordner, 19, of Dakota, Ill., population 500.
With schools and most workplaces closed Thursday, people spent the day shoveling snow. But Lloyd Hepner, 72, of Strasburg, Va., was in business.
“I can make $4,000 to $5,000 in a day,” Hepner said, leaning on his shovel after 20 hours of work. “Four to five inches of snow works good, but this is too much.”
Asked how he was able to work for so long, the former Chantilly, Va., resident just smiled. “I guess I’m used to it,” Hepner said.
Justin Williams, 19, and his friend Melvin Anderson, 18, saw snow as a moneymaking possibility, too, as they walked through Fort Washington, Md., with large shovels over their shoulders. But they said only one person in the 11 houses they called on had cash to pay their $25 fee. Everyone else offered checks or credit cards.
“Nah. man, I ain’t taking nobody’s check to shovel no snow,” Williams said. “How is it no one has any cash out here?”
The piles of snow next to Will Smith’s Volvo XC90 stood nearly as tall as his SUV, but the 29-year-old had managed to do what almost no one else on his block in Fairfax County had done: dig out his car.
Smith said the excavation was backbreaking. When asked how long it took, he had to stop and calculate. He finally offered a tally: 90 minutes.
“I was joking with my wife that they put camping chairs in parking spots in Chicago to save them after they dig their cars out,” Smith said. “I was going to leave a little mound of snow in my spot with my shovel stuck in it, so no one parks in it.”
The snow was play for Irina Yakadina, 42, and her son, 15-year-old Ilya Besancon. They crafted a motorcycle to accompany the myriad snowmen that others had erected in Logan Circle.
“Fantastic. Beautiful. It’s a true snow where you can really build stuff,” Yakadina said. “How much better can it get?”
But for those who live on the streets, bad weather is not a time for fun.
The organization that runs the emergency shelter for men in Montgomery reported a record number of people seeking their services Wednesday night. After averaging 178 men this winter, they took in 198.
In Arlington County, emergency shelters for single adults that are typically open only for the night stayed open throughout the cold and snowy day Thursday, said Kathy Sibert, executive director of the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network.
“We always find a way to make room,” she said. “We never turn anyone away.”
The District is one of only a handful of jurisdictions nationwide, including New York City and Massachusetts, that gives residents a legal right to shelter on nights when temperatures drop below freezing.
The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project brought activity packets to snowed-in children at D.C. General on Thursday. Jamila Larson, who is with the group, said children have few places to play inside the shelter and no place to play outside, save for a parking lot and a sidewalk near a methadone clinic.
“A snow day for kids at the shelter isn’t the same as a snow day for most kids,” she said. “They have nothing to do.”
Debbi Wilgoren, Matt Zapotosky, Julie Zauzmer, Dan Morse, Theresa Vargas, Michael E. Ruane. T. Rees Shapiro, Michael Rosenwald, Katherine Shaver, Caitlin Gibson, Steve Hendrix, Patrick Svitek, Emma Brown, Patricia Sullivan, Martin Weil, Susan Svrluga, Paul Duggan, Keith Alexander, Antonio Olivo, Michael A. Chandler, Lynh Bui, Luz Lazo, Lori Aratani, Mike DeBonis, Mark Berman, Justin Jouvenal, Brigid Schulte, Katherine Shaver, Donna St. George, Victoria St. Martin, Laura Vozzella, John Wagner, Ovetta Wiggins and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.