- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

The metropolitan region's first big storm of the winter caught few by surprise but still managed to slow much of the area's morning activity, shutting schools and local governments and turning area roads into pinball machines.
Road crews in Virginia, Maryland and the District struggled to keep up with the 5 to 8 inches of snow, which fell throughout the day. The storm, which had earlier left more than 2 million people without electricity in North Carolina, cut power for thousands in the Washington region and caused at least two deaths in Virginia.
"We've got wrecks everywhere," said Sgt. D.A. Shaver, spokesman for the Virginia State Police. In Patrick County, a 14-year-old Stuart boy died in a storm-related crash Wednesday afternoon. Yesterday, officials throughout the region urged motorists to stay home, and most area school districts began canceling today's classes in the afternoon.
Forecasters predicted that with temperatures expected to top out today in the low 30s, much of the snow and ice would be around through tomorrow, which is expected to be sunny with highs in the 40s.
The National Weather Service's Steve Zubrick said snow fell in the region at a rate of about an inch an hour from dawn until about 11 a.m.
That made it especially tough for crews to keep roads clean.
"We were prepared," said Frances Ward of the Maryland State Highway Administration. "We had everything well-stocked. It was a challenge because the rate of snow was so fast. The plows would make their pass, and it was snowing so fast they'd have to come back and make another pass.
By late afternoon, however, the snow stopped and major highways cleared.
Metrorail and Metrobus services were not interrupted, although there were about a dozen fender benders involving Metro buses and several routes had to be altered because of slippery hills.
Students around the region were overjoyed about the day off, but public school parents in the city were critical of how D.C. leaders handled the weather.
Schools in Virginia and Maryland canceled classes early, but D.C. Board of Education Superintendent Paul Vance held off until 8 a.m. before telling teachers, administrators and students to stay home. Mr. Vance said he initially decided to keep schools open because he thought the snow would turn to rain. Mayor Anthony A. Williams was in Salt Lake City, attending a National League of Cities conference.
"Why would you wait until people drop off their kids at school and then say, 'Oh, we're closed'? They already told you it's coming, and it's big," said Theresa Holloman, a Giant Food employee who lives in Montgomery Village. "Some people just don't think."
"We have people in positions who have degrees who are just stupid," said one D.C. mother who declined to give her name.
"I thought it was a cruddy call and very poor judgement," said Charles Jones, whose children attend D.C. charter schools. "By 6 a.m., a decision should have been made. Imagine all the children on buses and subways."
Louis Erste, chief operating officer for D.C. public schools, said parents will be alerted much earlier regarding plans to open or close schools today.
Most area public schools including Montgomery County, Prince George's and all Virginia districts, will be closed today.
The Maryland State Highway Administration had about 2,000 trucks and 2,000 employees and contractors working to clear the roads, while the Virginia Department of Transportation had about 3,500 trucks and other pieces of snow-fighting equipment and 3,800 employees on duty.
In the District, more than 200 other trucks and pieces of snow-fighting equipment were on the streets, and officials said most roads would be passable within eight hours after the snow stopped falling.
"It's been rough. It's been minor crash after minor crash after minor crash all day long," said Cpl. Rob Moroney, a Maryland State Police spokesman. "We're fortunate that none of them have been serious. It's people losing control of their cars, running into each other or jersey walls."
Through the morning hours, area airports had "many delays and cancellations," said John White of the Maryland Aviation Administration.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was down to one runway at one point, but during the afternoon and evening most runways were cleared. Some flights were still canceled during the evening, especially those to New York, where the storm had moved.
Federal officials angered some of the area's estimated 250,000 government workers with an early decision to keep offices open.
"It takes more than 5 inches of snow to shut down the federal government," said Mike Orenstein, a spokesman for the Office of Personnel Management. "We think that's what taxpayers would want us to do."
Some workers complained that the decision created an unnecessary risk for commuters traveling slick, snow-covered roads.
"I did a 360-degree turn on one of the major roads and almost slammed into another car on my way to work," said Pam Rogers, a federal employee from Silver Spring who works in downtown Washington. "Doesn't the government know how dangerous it is out there?"
The weather put a dent in Christmas shopping, with malls reporting traffic well below usual levels.
But hardware and grocery stores reported that patrons braved the cold to stock up on winter staples, shovels and snow sleds.
"We've been doing a fair amount of business today, probably half as much as Wednesday," said Les Neil, general manager of Stalcup Hardware in McLean.
Not since 1984 has there been a measurable amount of snow precipitation in the region the first week of December, according to the National Weather Service. Yesterday's storm tied for the 13th-largest December storm since 1888. On Dec. 4, 1957, the area received 11.1 inches of snow.
Arlo Wagner, Marguerite Higgins, Denise Barnes, Vaishali Honawar, Ellen Sorokin, Tom Ramstack, William Glanz and H.J. Brier contributed to this story, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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