- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2004

A dusting of snow, high winds and below-freezing temperatures yesterday shut down several area schools and stranded motorists caught off guard by slippery roads.

The blast of arctic air — one day before the official start of winter — drove temperatures to 15 degrees, the coldest this season in the Washington area.

High winds with gusts up to 29 mph left thousands of Northern Virginia residents without electricity. By yesterday afternoon, more than 17,000 Virginia Dominion Power customers, most of whom live in North Arlington, Leesburg, Falls Church and Alexandria, lost power.

Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE) reported more than 200 outages. Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco) reported a few feeders out in Prince George’s County early yesterday morning but no significant number of outages.

The District declared a hypothermia emergency, sending six vehicles across the city to transport homeless people to shelters and to distribute warm blankets and clothing to those who refused shelter.

The Washington area is expected to see warmer temperatures today, with highs in the low 40s and with lows of 36 degrees overnight.

Ice on the roads were the main concern for transportation officials. Crews began treating roads late Sunday.

The D.C. Department of Transportation had 80 pieces of equipment out treating streets Sunday night and early yesterday. The Virginia Department of Transportation also had de-icers and salt trucks out in force, but reduced the number to about 100 early yesterday morning.

Maryland had the most problems, with officials reporting several minor accidents on icy roads.

“We did have a few incidents where emergency patrols did respond to some fender benders and a couple of folks who slid driving out this morning, but mostly because they were going faster than they should have considering the conditions,” said Kellie Boulware, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Slippery road conditions forced some schools to open late or close yesterday. Schools closed in Prince William County in Virginia and opened late in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties in Maryland. Other area school systems opened on time.

The cold weather caught many people by surprise, said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, a motor club that received an average of 600 to 800 service calls per hour yesterday at its call center.

“It’s been the busiest cold day of the year so far for us,” Mr. Townsend said. “[The weather] changed so suddenly that it caught people off guard. … They just didn’t see it coming.”

Some of the emergencies involved cars that went off the road and needed a tow, while many others involved frozen locks. Mr. Townsend said most of the calls in the region came from Northern Virginia, the District and the Interstate 95 corridor between the District and Baltimore.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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