- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 20, 2009

The region’s largest December snowstorm played havoc with the Washington area on Saturday, choking off major highways, forcing a halt to most public transportation and prompting authorities to appeal for residents to stay in their homes.

Road crews worked around the clock in a generally losing battle against the snow, which fell at a pace of more than 2 inches an hour during the early afternoon and left stalled or wrecked vehicles littering the shoulders of the Capital Beltway and other major routes.

Virginia State Police said troopers responded to more than 1,800 traffic crashes and disabled vehicles between midnight Friday and noon Saturday.

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As the snow began tapering off Saturday evening, preliminary National Weather Service measurements showed some parts of the District had received more than 16 inches, easily surpassing the record for a December snowstorm of 12 inches, set in 1932.

As of 5:30 p.m., Gaithersburg had 16.6 inches, Bowie had 15.5 inches, Centreville had 19 inches, Fairfax Station had 17 inches and Alexandria had 14.5 inches in the greater Washington, D.C., area.

The storm also brought misery for hard-pressed retailers, keeping away customers on what’s called “Super Saturday,” during the last weekend before Christmas.

Many stores, which normally open early and stay open late to accommodate holiday shoppers, were forced to do the opposite. Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg and Tysons Galleria in McLean closed at 2 p.m. on what should have been one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

“You are looking at your busiest day of the year and taking it away,” Steven Aarons, manager of the D.C. toy store Barston’s Child’s Play, told the Associated Press.

The busiest merchants were those selling snow shovels, sleds, ice remover and other winter-weather items. The Ace Hardware store in the Glover Park area of Northwest Washington posted a sign in its window saying shovels, sleds and toboggans were sold out.

That was frustrating for Christine Andreen, 24, who spent the early afternoon trekking through the storm with her dog in a fruitless search for a sled. But it didn’t dent her enthusiasm.

“I’m from Alabama. I’ve never seen this much snow,” she said.

Katie Schiavi, 27, and her boyfriend, Eric Oberhofer, 27, said they had been walking around Glover Park trying to find a place to eat before giving up and going to their local Starbucks, which they found full of families.

“Everything is shutting down,” Miss Schiavi said. “This is completely unusual. This usually happens in January and February.”

Pedestrians like Miss Schiavi and Mr. Oberhofer fared better than most motorists, many of whom clogged the region’s snow-packed highways in spite of repeated public advisories on local radio and television stations.

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