Snow fail: Predictions almost all wrong this time around

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A storm that promised the first significant snowfall accumulation in two years was mostly a bust, dropping a sloppy wet slush inside the Capital Beltway on Wednesday but delivering more significant snow in the Washington area’s outer suburbs.

The storm largely stuck to the script that meteorologists predicted, pummeling the Great Plains and Midwest with strong winds and dropping nearly a foot of snow in Chicago among other cities. Late Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, western Virginia and Western Maryland got nearly 2 feet of snow in some places.

The District had braced itself for as much as 10 inches of snow — most major school districts and the federal government were closed — but except for some scattered heavy flurries around lunchtime, warmer than expected temperatures kept the brunt of the storm outside the Beltway.

“It’s basically flakes in the air,” National Weather Service meteorologist Bryan Jackson said. “Snow is there, it’s out there, it’s just not everywhere.”

Prince George’s County received a 2 inch dusting, but Frostburg, Md., about two hours northwest of the District, got a foot of snow.

Rockingham County, Va., about two hours west of the District was buried under 20 inches of snow, compared to the 6 inches that fell in parts of Fairfax County. Dominion Virginia Power reported more than 100,000 outages at about 5:30 p.m.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency, asking residents to stay off roads and warning that the climbing number of power outages likely would continue into the evening. More than half the outages were in the Shenandoah Valley area.

The power for the Shenandoah IGA grocery store came on at 2 p.m., store clerk Debbie Hansbrough said, but at least half the town remained dark.

“A lot of people don’t have electricity, so they’re trying to find things to snack on,” Ms. Hansbrough said. “They’re buying bread, milk, sandwiches. I think everybody has taken this in pretty good stride. Everybody’s helping everybody.”

It wasn’t all patient shoveling and waiting on line for the local grocer to open.

Between late Tuesday and mid-morning Wednesday, the Virginia State Police handled more than 1,300 calls, roughly a third of which were traffic crashes. In Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was shut down in both directions for several hours because of high winds and an overturned tractor-trailer.

Though D.C. officials had the personnel and road pre-treatment at the ready, it proved unnecessary as the weather brought little more than rain and gray skies.

Chicago native Kaitlynn Scannell, 23, said she was surprised at the early decision to close schools.

“I think it’s too warm for the storm to stick,” she said. “If we didn’t enjoy 40-degree weather yesterday than I probably would believe it. I think it’s just sad that the government asks us to take off from work and school.”

Others felt it better to err on the side of caution.

“I think any excuse to close down school for a snow day is a good excuse,” said 30-year-old Noel Cotten-Rowland. “Trying to get around in this city which is not designed for snow … it’s not safe traveling around. We’re not prepared for this kind of thing.”

Antoine Wade of Cheverly said Wednesday morning that he was surprised that the storm had forced so many government and school closures. While federal workers and school children enjoyed the day off, , a Maryland town just over the Northeast D.C. line.

“It’s not that bad,” he said as he picked up groceries at a supermarket in Colmar Manor. “I kind of think that, like typical Washington, they overdid it.”

• Joshua Eferighe, David Hill and Sidney Van-Wyk contributed to this report

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