- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2000

A 1,000-mile storm front from South Carolina to Maine unexpectedly dumped up to 16 inches of snow on the region, shutting down the federal government, schools and businesses in a storm reminiscent of the "Blizzard of '96."
The governors of Maryland and Virginia yesterday both declared a state of emergency, allowing them to ask for the support of the National Guard. A snow emergency was declared in the District.
People who walked out their doors yesterday morning to the surprise of significant snowfall were stuck in their homes as crews worked to clear major roads before hitting the neighborhoods. Most transportation officials hoped to begin clearing neighborhood roads by late last night or early this morning.
The heavy snowfall was expected to begin tapering off last night, but light snowfall could continue through today. High temperatures in the 30s the remainder of the week will limit melting, forecasters said.
The storm was a typical nor'easter, which was intensified by unusually high temperatures at sea just off Virginia, meteorologists said.
"What we've seen here is in the jet stream, a low-pressure system developing and becoming very powerful," said National Weather Service meteorologist Tim Armstrong.
Police officers in the District of Columbia manned more than 100 intersections to keep traffic flowing.
"We're just pretty much trying to keep up with traffic and snow towing," Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said outside the Dupont Circle Metro station yesterday morning.
Officers also cruised streets with their emergency flashers on so they could be seen by stranded motorists.
Police departments across the region reported traffic accidents, but none serious. Overall, few drivers braved the bad road conditions.
"This is a significant snowfall," Chief Ramsey, who is from Chicago, said. "Certainly, I have experienced many like it and perhaps worse. But it's particularly treacherous because people aren't used to snow like this in this part of the country."
He was quick to add, however, that the city is handling the situation like old pros.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams has taken personal control of snow removal, as the city copes with blizzard conditions. Mr. Williams spent much of the day riding with public works crews, even showing up for a noon news conference riding in the front seat of a snowplow truck.
D.C. officials dispatched 125 of their trucks and 84 others from private contractors yesterday, said Vanessa Dale Burns, director of the D.C. Department of Public Works.
"In 1996, when they had the big blizzard, the District had 30 trucks. This is a big difference," Ms. Burns said.
Maryland State Highway Administration spokeswoman Lora Rakowski said road crews struggled to keep up with the heavy snowfall. More than 200 pieces of snow-removal equipment were on Montgomery County roads by yesterday afternoon.
Those who made the commute to work had a long trip, with cars moving about 25 mph on interstates.
Police officer S.K. Lewis made it from his Silver Spring home to the Maryland State House in Annapolis for his 2:30 p.m. shift. It took two hours and the help of six Samaritans, but he was on time.
Officer Lewis said he wasn't braking or skidding when accumulated snow on Route 50 pushed his car into a snow bank near the junction with Route 97.
Six persons stopped to help dislodge his car, which had snow jammed up to the battery.
In Virginia, more than 4,000 Virginia Department of Transportation employees, plus an untold number of private contractors, worked in 12-hour shifts to clear interstates and major roads.
VDOT crews had 3,500 pieces of snow-removal equipment at their disposal and by midday yesterday were able to make significant progress. All interstates and major primary routes in the eastern and northern parts of the state were passable, with caution.
Some commuters who normally drive decided to take Metrorail, but long Metro trains with few passengers cruised into nearly empty stations throughout the day.
At the Q Street Dupont Circle Metro Station, riders were forced to either line up for the elevator or head south to the Dupont Circle station because of escalator problems. Snow froze on the down escalator, forcing Metro to shut it off.
Ron Taylor wasn't cutting the transit agency any slack.
"It's always the case. It's not just the snow," he said.
Mr. Taylor, 43, who helps travelers get visas, took the Metro from his home in Rockville, Md., to Dupont Circle, only to find out his office was closed. He didn't mind.
"Well, the views were pretty, so it was a good excuse to get out of the house," he said.
The day's informality was obvious from the many skirts and ties that were traded in for snow boots, jeans and sweaters. Typically, laconic commuters even found a reason to share a laugh.
On Metrorail's inbound Green Line train yesterday morning, riders were greeted by the following announcement from the conductor: "Ladies and gentlemen attention please. The federal government and District government are closed today. Why are you on the train?"
Passengers responded with laughter as one shouted back, "This is the only day we can get any work done."
Local utility companies were spared yesterday, with few outages reported.
"The snow itself isn't the problem," said Robert Dobkin, spokesman for Potomac Electric Power Co. "If the winds pick up … there could be branches breaking on our lines and the wind itself causing damages."
Pepco had only a few scattered outages throughout the area yesterday. As a precaution, Pepco crews, including line repairmen, were on standby all day and into the night at the company's three service centers in Forestville, Rockville and on Benning Road NE in the District.
Baltimore Gas and Electric had only 170 households out of 1.1 million customers without power.
"It's a huge event weatherwise, but it's a nonevent for the power company," said BGE spokesman Dave Austin.
Throughout the day the power lines remained free because the light snow was blown off by the wind.
As of last night, Virginia Power had only 817 of its 2 million customers without power. Most of the roughly 600 customers who lost power in Alexandria, Va., yesterday had it restored later in the day.
For many traveling by air, it was a day of waiting and frustration.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was closed, and the storm forced the cancellation of many flights out of Washington Dulles International and Baltimore-Washington International airports.
Airport officials said as soon as they would clear a runway, the wind would push another blanket of snow over the pavement.
At least one person found a silver lining in the storm clouds overhead.
"Rain, sleet, snow, hurricanes we keep on going," Harry Davis of the U.S. Postal Service said with a grin as he trudged up an unshoveled sidewalk in Old Town Alexandria.
"A lady over on Gibbon Street just gave me some hot chocolate chip cookies."

* Rebecca Charry, Donna De Marco, Ronald J. Hansen, Margie Hyslop and Jim Keary contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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