D.C. area braces for imminent winter storm

A winter storm that coated large swaths of the South in ice and snow and left cities at a standstill and hundreds of thousands without power was poised to bring similar complications to the D.C. region Thursday.

Road crews, government officials, residents and businesses hurriedly prepared Wednesday for the storm, which was expected to drop up to 10 inches of snow in the D.C. area by Thursday.

Snowfall began just after 7 p.m. Wednesday and continued through the night, leaving 6 to 8 inches in the District. More accumulation is expected to the west of the city, with up to 10 inches predicted in parts of Virginia, according to the National Weather Service.

“This will be a long event, precipitating tonight through tomorrow night,” National Weather Service meteorologist Heather Sheffield said Wednesday. But through Thursday evening, precipitation might turn to a mix of sleet and rain, “which will dramatically lessen snowfall accumulations,” she said.

In the South, forecasters warned of a potentially “catastrophic” storm with more than an inch of ice possible in places. Snow was forecast overnight, with up to 3 inches predicted in Atlanta and much higher amounts in the Carolinas.

Ice combined with wind gusts up to 30 mph snapped tree limbs and power lines. More than 200,000 homes and businesses lost electricity in Georgia, while South Carolina had about 245,000 outages. Some people could be in the dark for days.

More than 3,200 airline flights were canceled, and deaths blamed on the storm — weather-related traffic accidents and hypothermia — reached 11 by Wednesday night.

D.C. officials declared a snow emergency at 6:30 p.m. ahead of the storm — the first time since 2010 — meaning vehicles parked on snow-emergency routes would be ticketed and towed. The city’s Department of Public Works expected to deploy 287 snowplows on city streets by 9 p.m.

“If the forecast holds, this will be our first chance this season to tackle a heavy snowfall,” public works director William O. Howland Jr. said. “We are ready, our equipment is ready and we have plenty of salt.”

Late Wednesday, the federal government had not announced whether offices would close.

Schools in the District and in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties announced closures for Thursday, but many districts in Virginia were still weighing the decision Wednesday night.

Expecting that the heavy, wet snow will down trees and power lines, Virginia’s largest utility was bringing in additional workers from Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Ohio to supplement its own crews. Officials from Dominion Virginia Power said 1,500 field crews were ready to respond to downed lines and power outages.

In Maryland, officials identified areas along interstate highways for emergency truck parking during the storm, and Gov. Martin O’Malley declared a state of emergency.

Government agencies weren’t the only ones making preparations to weather the storm.

Shoppers circled the aisles in the District’s Georgia Avenue Wal-Mart on Wednesday morning, picking up staples like bottled water and bread. Recalling the way the city shut down several times during the “Snowpocalypse” winter of 2009-10, shopper Sheldon Jones loaded his cart with water and snacks.

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