- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2001

Weather forecasters hate to sound wishy-washy, but they just couldn't say over the weekend if the Washington area would see its biggest snowstorm in 30 years.
The picture wasn't clear enough.
"It's easier to send a man to the moon," said WRC-TV (Channel 4) chief meteorologist Bob Ryan, than predict the path of a large storm, especially days before it hits.
"The rain-snow line runs right near us," Mr. Ryan said yesterday with rain falling. "It's always a challenge to get that rain-snow line pinned down."
Even with the great advances in technology, including Doppler radar, Mr. Ryan and other meteorologists had a heck of a time figuring out what this storm was going to do.
The cold air from the north didn't move in as fast as expected, causing the earlier forecasts to call for some snow yesterday and lots today, National Weather Service meteorologist Phil Poole said.
"There are a lot of tangibles involved," he said, noting that the storm was still "on track" to bring snow to the Washington area, probably in the 2-to-4-inch range with more to the west and north.
Weather Service forecasts predict the rain from last night will mix with sleet this morning and change over to snow by the afternoon. Snowfall is likely through the rest of today and tomorrow, with temperatures generally in the mid- to upper 30s during the day and in the upper 20s at night.
Temperatures were steady in the upper 30s throughout the area yesterday, meaning the precipitation was all rain, not snow.
A winter-weather advisory was in effect late last night and was to continue into today. Forecasters said temperatures should rise to the upper 40s by Thursday, with partly cloudy skies.
The forecasts of snow had area residents and governments shuffling their plans over the past couple of days and resulting in the usual hectic trips to the grocery store.
And then there were the cherry blossoms to worry about.
Robert DeFeo, the National Park Service's chief horticulturist, has predicted the cherry blossoms to reach their peak by March 31 smack dab in the middle of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which runs from March 25 to April 5. The peak bloom is typically between March 15 and April 18.
But cold weather historically delays the blossoming of the 3000 Yoshino cherry trees that are descendants of those donated by Japan in 1912 and line the Tidal Basin.
"Everybody has to guess" well in advance of when the trees will blossom because hotels, Potomac River cruises and restaurants can be booked out up to four years in advance of the blossoming and festival, said Diana Mayhew, executive director of the festival.
"It just disappoints" the hundreds of thousands of tourists if the prediction is wrong, Mrs. Mayhew said.
Most of the East Coast was in "active warning" status throughout the day yesterday waiting for the snow to start piling up. Parts of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut expected to get between 1 and 2 feet of snow.
The snowstorm-blizzard was expected to play havoc with travel plans, said Justin McNaull, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
"There are probably a lot of people who have changed their plans because they didn't think they could get back [yesterday]," Mr. McNaull said.
Mr. McNaull said area residents have been hearing about the storm since Thursday but nothing has happened, so travelers can't accurately plan.
"There is a real uncertainty," Mr. McNaull said.
There is no question about being prepared for the worst, though.
Joan Morris, a spokeswoman with the Virginia Department of Transportation, said about 1,400 workers came in at 7 last night to sand, salt and clear the roads with more than 1,000 pieces of snow equipment at the ready.
"Early March you just never know" what Mother Nature will bring, Ms. Morris said, but whatever it is about 1,400 contracted and state workers will be toiling away to make roads safe.
Leslie Hotaling, acting director of D.C. Public Works, said her crews were more than ready.
"Going into the weekend we were prepared for up to a foot of snow and we've kind of been on standby mode ever since," said Ms. Hotaling. "We have over 300 trucks ready to go, though we won't deploy all of those."
Of those trucks, 150 are equipped with salt spreaders and plows and the other 150 are contract plows, to be deployed if necessary.
"We're not expecting more than 3 inches and we don't need to plow if it doesn't go above 3 inches," she said.
Many of the drivers were catching up on sleep last evening, while preparing to start their shifts at 5:30 a.m. today. They originally were set to start driving around midnight last night, but as snowfall was delayed their start time was pushed back.
All of the trucks were serviced, fueled and ready to go because of the advance warning, said Mary Myers, a department spokeswoman.

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