The full misery of winter weather swept through Washington on Wednesday, closing schools and shuttering government offices as snow gave way to sleet and freezing rain that greeted the light commuter rush home.
The snow and sleet combined to make driving hazardous, but one day of dreadful weather was expected to turn tame overnight with high temperatures forecast near 50 on Thursday.
“Most people did the best thing they could do today and just stayed home,” said Ron Snyder, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police.
Although traffic was greatly diminished Wednesday as many offices and schools closed, authorities worried that slick roads from the wintry mix would cause fender benders. In colder areas north and west of Washington, concern lingered into Wednesday night that power lines might topple beneath the weight of freezing rain.
For some residents, it was a chance to take the day off. Others worked from home, while some trudged out into the wintry mix to get to work. Snow totals ranged from 1.5 inches to six inches in the Washington region before turning to a wintry mix of precipitation. Thundersnow was reported in parts of Western Maryland.
The 2.6 inches of snow at Reagan National Airport pushed the city’s total this season to 16.6 inches, ensuring an above-average snowfall. Most spots inside the Beltway recorded 2.5 to four inches.
“We’re seeing an uptick in crashes,” said Taran Hutchinson, who leads the Metropolitan Area Transportation Operations Coordination program, a regional group of transportation agencies. He said none of the midday crashes were major, but they possibly happened as people were driving unsafely for the conditions.
Maryland State Police said they responded to 92 crashes and 68 disabled or unattended vehicles between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. Wednesday. Snyder said authorities were helped by the fact that so many schools, government offices and businesses closed — and did so with advance warning.
Snyder said that during that five-hour stretch Wednesday, the busiest areas for state police were Frederick County, which recorded 12 crashes; Baltimore County, with 11 crashes; and Montgomery, Prince George’s and Howard counties, which notched eight crashes each.
Virginia State Police responded to 318 disabled vehicles and 477 traffic crashes through Wednesday afternoon, some of which resulted in injuries, authorities said. It wasn’t known whether a fatal crash in Lee County was weather-related.
Few people — and even fewer vehicles — were out in Wednesday morning’s normally busy rush. At a normally traffic-clogged intersection along K Street in downtown Washington, it was relatively quiet.
“I think it’s beautiful,” said Jennifer Ignat, who had come into the District a day early from Ellicott City, Md., for a conference. “It’s serene for Washington.”
William Howell, a maintenance worker at George Washington University, hadn’t checked his messages before trekking into work from his home on 14th Street NW. He was sent home because his facility was closed for the day.
His plan? “Relax and do some chores,” he said. “I wanted to get out anyway and enjoy it. I like all the seasons.”
Greg Milton, who does maintenance work for Keener Management, said the snow was his “go time.”
“It was go time for me since 6:30 in the morning,” he said, throwing salt on sidewalks near 17th Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW. “We don’t want any falls.”
Nearby, outside the Philippines Embassy, Loy Alfaro — a driver for the embassy — was less appreciative. He came to the United States in 2015, just in time for his first snowstorm that winter. At first, he didn’t know what to make of the white stuff, but now he enjoys seeing it fall.
Being out in it? Not so much.
“The snow is good, but difficult to travel in,” he said, pausing for a moment. “I’d rather stay at home.”
In Logan Circle, Julia Alschuler threw a ball across a dog park as her black beagle-terrier mix, Levon, chased it, leaping in the snow. She planned to work from home for her job at an environmental nonprofit organization, but wanted to make sure her dog got time outdoors.
“He doesn’t get outside a lot in the winter,” Alschuler said. But he loves the snow and on days like Wednesday, “it becomes a giant outdoor playground.”
The winter weather in Washington was part of a snow system hitting more than 100 million people from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Some parts of the Southeast could face flash floods.
More than 1,400 flights were delayed or canceled by midafternoon, according to FlightAware.com. At the three D.C.-area airports, roughly 610 flights were affected.
Metro’s bus system ran on a “severe snow plan” for most of the day, operating only on major roads. Metrorail ran trains every 12 minutes so de-icing equipment could operate between trains carrying passengers.
Virginia Railway Express canceled its commuter train service, while MARC operated with reduced service. Maryland also canceled its commuter bus service for Wednesday.
For Jason Maga, who works for Amtrak, Wednesday had a dual purpose.
“It’s partly a work day, partly a dad and daughter day,” he said, as he sledded with his 4-year-old daughter, Clara, at Lincoln Park in the District’s Capitol Hill area.
In Bethesda, as the midday snow gradually changed to sleet, Chris Netter entered a drugstore along Wisconsin Avenue with a broken umbrella under his arm. He found a new one for $18.
“I couldn’t find my golf umbrella and my other one was at work,” said Netter, 64. He said he didn’t mind walking 10 minutes to his office on snowy sidewalks.
“Why not?” he said. “It’s good to get out of the house for a while.”
He tossed his broken umbrella into the trash on his way out of the store.
Many residents had read the forecast Tuesday and prepared to work from home the next day.
Susan Burkinshaw, 53, who manages financial operations for a small business, was set up at the kitchen table in her Germantown, Md., home, doing payroll. She had brought all she needed from her office.
“I’ll probably get more done here,” she said, as she looked outside at her backyard. “It’s beautiful. Everything is whitewashed, and there are dozens of birds at our feeders.”
Beginning Thursday, high temperatures are expected to remain above freezing for the next several days in Washington, topping out in the mid-60s on Sunday with partly sunny skies after a soggy Saturday.
Correction: This story had incorrectly stated the employer of Jennifer Ignat. She does not work for Deloitte.
Nick Anderson, Rachel Chason, Justin Jouvenal, Terrence McCoy, Jason Samenow, Samantha Schmidt, Donna St. George, Steve Thompson, Ovetta Wiggins and Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.