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Snowstorm brings D.C. area to halt, causes chaos on roadways

- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2014

The worst snowstorm in four years crippled the D.C. area and had school systems canceling classes for a second day, as officials worked to clear streets and residents attempted to dig out of the slushy mess left blanketing the region.

The storm dropped up to 18 inches on parts of the nation’s capital, bringing transportation to a halt and closing offices, businesses, the federal government and its local counterparts. While virtually every school system said by early Thursday evening they would close Friday, no plans had been announced by the federal government.

A winter weather advisory was in effect for the region until 1 a.m., and forecasters called for an additional 1-3 inches from a snow that began to fall at about 4 p.m. Between 6-11 inches fell across the District Wednesday night into Thursday, with Northern Virginia and parts of Maryland reporting as much as 18 inches.

Washington Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport closed as a result of the storm. Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport was open, but planes were grounded and delays were widespread. Dulles opened one runway shortly before 1 p.m., and Reagan opened a runway at 5 p.m.

Amtrak said Thursday evening its railroad lines between Boston and the District were operating with “reduced frequency.”

Transportation on roadways was hazardous across the region, with dozens of vehicle accidents reported.

The most serious accident involved a Virginia Department of Transportation contract driver who had gotten out of his vehicle when he was struck by a VDOT dump truck and was killed. Virginia State Police said the accident occurred at about 5:55 a.m. at Belmont Ridge Road and Chesterton Street in Ashburn. 

The man, who has not been identified, was taken to a hospital where he died.

Virginia State Police said they responded to 97 traffic crashes and 212 disabled vehicles from 4 p.m. Wednesday to 4 p.m. Thursday. Nearly 1,095 traffic crashes were reported statewide.

In Maryland, a tractor trailer overturned and leaked fuel at Interstate 295 and the Capital Beltway Thursday morning, blocking all lanes of the Inner Loop in Oxon Hill.

Utilities in the area were largely unaffected by the snowfall. Despite preparations for widespread outages, Pepco and Dominion Virginia Power reported that very few customers lost power in the District and the Maryland and Northern Virginia suburbs.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, who on Wednesday declared the city’s first snow emergency since 2010, said most of the main roads were cleared by noon, but that for some people who parked in the wrong place, the storm could turn out to be expensive.

“We did have between 600 and 700 autos that were ticketed for being parked on a snow emergency route and we had — I don’t know — somewhere north of 200 vehicles that were actually towed,” he said. Parking in a snow emergency route can draw a ticket of up to $250. Towing comes with a $100 fee and a $20-per-day storage charge.

The Covenant House Washington outreach team delivered blankets and food to 17 people on the street Wednesday night, said Madye Henson, president and CEO of the organization, and connected three of them with a warming bus to beat the cold.

“It’s a very busy time,” she said. “Clearly there’s just a great need.”

Mr. Gray, a former executive director of Covenant House Washington, noted on CNN that a male patient who had wandered away from St. Elizabeths Hospital psychiatric facility in recent days was found dead in the snow Thursday afternoon.

Metrobus service was canceled overnight, but resumed on a limited basis at 2 p.m. Trains were operational through the storm.

The region’s snow day wasn’t all inconvenience. 

Amateur sculptors gathered in Dupont Circle to try their hand at a snow art competition, building a series of statues out of the heavy, wet snow. 

On Capitol Hill, dog owners took their companions out for romps in Stanton Park. 

Some pups, like 13-month-old English sheep dog Alys, were spooked at first by the layers of white stuff. 

“This morning she was a little cautious with all the snow, and then she loves it,” said her owner Blake Johnson.

The winter storm made its way to the region from the South, where ice combined with wind gusts up to 30 mph snapped tree limbs and power lines. More than 1.2 million homes and businesses lost electricity in the South and along the Atlantic coast, with about 550,000 customers still in the dark Thursday evening, mostly in South Carolina and Georgia.

More than 6,500 airline flights were canceled, and deaths blamed on the storm — weather-related traffic accidents and hypothermia — reached 21 by Thursday night.

• Meredith Somers and Meghan Drake contributed to this report.

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