- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2011

It’s not as if Washington-area officials and utilities were in the dark about the potential snowstorm, although many of their constituents and customers were in the dark Thursday, with thousands likely to remain without power through Friday evening.

Whatever could go wrong in the region’s first major snow dump of the year did go wrong, from traffic gridlock and extensive power outages to slick, snow-covered city streets that even seasoned mass-transit drivers couldn’t negotiate.

And nobody was spared — the mayor lost his power and the president got stuck in traffic. Jackknifed tractor-trailers, stuck buses and hundreds of abandoned vehicles blocked major roads and impeded snowplows well into Thursday.

“That’s the nightmarish situation that we’ve been dealing with as quickly as we can,” Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said.

More snow is predicted for Friday, though the National Weather Service said the Washington area should expect only light showers and about an inch of new white stuff.

A tow truck operator attempts Thursday to free a car that had been stuck in the snow along the northbound George Washington Parkway in McLean, Va. More snow is predicted for Friday, though the National Weather Service said the Washington area should expect only about an inch. (Associated Press)
A tow truck operator attempts Thursday to free a car that had ... more >

At least six deaths across the Northeast were blamed on the storm, five of them in the District and Maryland.

The much-maligned D.C. Public Schools and the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) made early decisions on Wednesday’s evacuations based on the National Weather Service winter storm watch.

But the new administration of Mayor Vincent C. Gray, which is reckoning with its first major snowstorm, lagged hours behind.

OPM used an 11:17 a.m. website post to inform federal workers in the D.C. area that they “should depart 2 hours earlier than their normal departure time.” Still, many supervisors took hours to communicate that to subordinates.

D.C. officials didn’t make their call until 2 p.m. — after the weather service had upgraded its winter storm watch to a winter storm warning and increased the snow estimates.

“[G]iven the current weather forecast and weather related closings throughout the region, DC Government Agency leaders are encouraged to exercise their authority to dismiss staff early with the least disruption to public service. The goal is to ensure that all District Government employees are able to travel safely and to clear area roads before the heaviest anticipated periods of snowfall,” read the internal memo, which was from the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency and addressed to “Agency Directors.”

Mr. Gray also could have followed a heads-up from D.C. Public Schools officials, who decided, even before schoolchildren began heading for their lunchrooms, to cancel all after-school programs and evening activities because the “National Weather Service is predicting significant snow accumulation.”

Closed schools and local-government offices allowed plows and salt trucks to more easily clear the streets Thursday, but homebound residents had to face what’s becoming a regular occurrence during severe rain, snow and wind storms: downed power lines.

About 10 a.m. Thursday, an estimated 180,000 Pepco customers, including Mr. Gray, were without power. A 5 p.m. check showed the number only slightly lower — still at almost 150,000 Pepco customers without power, mostly in Montgomery County.

On Thursday evening, Pepco released a statement saying it has additional “arriving crews from Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and the Carolinas” and “should have power restored to the vast majority” of its customers by 11 p.m. Friday.

Story Continues →