- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2003

The Washington area yesterday braced for the first snowfall since last winter’s record blizzards.

Road crews and power companies said they were ready as precipitation began falling last night, with a 3 to 5 inches of snow expected before the storm tapers off tomorrow. Nearly 2 feet of snow fell in the area in February during the Presidents Day weekend, a storm that depleated the snow removal budgets of many area agencies.

Maryland’s State Highway Administration, which spent more than three times its snow removal budget for fiscal 2003, said about 2,400 workers, more than 2,000 pieces of equipment and 246,000 tons of salt will be available this winter.

“The men and women of [the State Highway Administration] are ready to keep Maryland’s roads safe,” said Neil J. Pedersen, agency administrator.

Metro, which was heavily criticized for its performance during the Presidents Day storm, was prepared this time, said its chief operating officer, Lemuel M. Proctor.

“We’re looking at sleet and freezing rain, so the concentration will be on de-icing the third rail system” that powers the trains, he said.

The transit agency has 32,000 gallons of de-icing fluid, 2,400 tons of bulk salt, 750 snow shovels and 460 floor squeegees available for the winter, Mr. Proctor said.

Potomac Electric Power Co. said it has taken steps to prepare for outages, including assigning extra repair crews last night for worsening conditions. Additional public safety teams also were available to respond to downed wires.

Warehouse inventories have been checked to assure the availability of poles, transformers, fuses, wires and other material needed to make repairs. Call center shifts will be extended and operators will be added as necessary, Pepco said. Contacts have been initiated with state and local emergency management agencies.

The storm hit western Virginia early yesterday,leaving up to 5 inches of snow and sleet on some parts of the region, causing numerous traffic accidents and forcing schools to close.

“We’ve got a mess here,” said Sgt. Tom Foster, state police spokesman in Salem, Va.

Yesterday morning, troopers responded to 57 accidents, most minor, in the 14-county Salem district — 16 of them along a 100-mile stretch of Interstate 81, Sgt. Foster said.

A traffic fatality on I-81 in Rockingham County probably was weather-related, said state police Sgt. Gary Settle of the Culpeper district.

VDOT has budgeted $80 million for snow removal this winter, down from $144 million spent last winter. Crews were being mobilized at a “reasonable” rate to deal with the winter’s first noteworthy storm, said Joan Morris, spokeswoman for VDOT.

Many schools either closed all day or sent students home early as the storm crept from the far southwest Virginia corner up the I-81 corridor.

Dominion Virginia Power spokesman Jim Norvelle said no significant power outages were reported yesterday.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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