- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2003

A relentless winter storm yesterday dumped more than a foot of snow in the region, defying the round-the-clock efforts by hundreds of plow trucks in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia to clear major roads and highways.
The snowstorm could measure up as one of the top five on record for the Washington area, with accumulations topping 2 feet in some locales.
Forecasters expect the snow to continue to fall until this afternoon, and most offices, stores and activities will remain closed or canceled today. Most area schools were closed anyway in observance of Presidents Day.
The snow fell so fast about 2 inches accumulating every hour that officials at Baltimore-Washington International and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports couldn't keep runways clear and were forced to close. Workers at Dulles International Airport managed to keep one runway open.
The snowstorm, part of a weather pattern that made its way up the East Coast yesterday, saved its biggest punch for the Washington area. New York was expecting a foot of snow, and about half that amount was forecast for Boston.
The storm forced President Bush to return to the White House by motorcade yesterday instead of traveling by helicopter from his mountaintop retreat at Camp David, Md.
The governors of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware declared states of emergency around noon yesterday.
Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. prohibited all nonessential vehicles from traveling state roads. Motorists violating the ban faced up to a $1,000 fine.
The city administrator for the District declared a state of emergency at about 4 p.m. yesterday. A snow emergency had been declared in the city early yesterday morning.
The storm prompted D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams to cut short a vacation in Puerto Rico and fly home to oversee the weather emergency. Mr. Ehrlich cut short his weekend meeting at Camp David with Mr. Bush.
The storm hit almost exactly as forecasters had predicted since late last week. A cold front from the north pushed a warm, wet air mass from the Gulf of Mexico higher into the atmosphere, where it cooled and dumped moisture in the form of snow.
Transportation officials said the region was lucky to have the storm hit on the long Presidents Day weekend, when schools were scheduled to be closed and traffic was expected to be light.
If 2 feet of snow accumulates, the snowstorm will be one of Washington's five worst since 1885, National Weather Service spokeswoman Jackie Hale said.
This storm likely will fall short of the "Knickerbocker Storm" of Jan. 28, 1922, which left 28 inches of snow and collapsed the roof of the Knickerbocker Theater, killing more than 100 people.
There were no fatalities reported yesterday and no major wrecks on highways, although numerous vehicles, including a Greyhound bus in Southeast, spun out or skidded off the roads and had to be towed out of snowbanks.
With 2,000 plows on the roads and 2,400 workers toiling around the clock in shifts, the Maryland State Highway Administration struggled to keep even one lane clear on major roadways, spokeswoman Kellie Boulware said. She didn't expect the roads would be clear by today.
In Northern Virginia, 1,500 snow-removal trucks were on the roads and 1,800 workers battled the storm, but treacherous driving conditions persisted.
"It's bad," Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Joan Morris said.
"The snow is relentless and they are relentlessly plowing," she said. "They are making a difference. If they weren't doing anything there would be 2 feet of snow covering the road."
Most roads should be passable by tomorrow morning, Miss Morris said.
The District had more than 300 plow trucks on the roads, about three-quarters of its fleet, and about 450 workers helped clear snow.
"We consider it a major response to a major storm," Department of Public Works spokeswoman Mary Myers said. "It takes constant, sustained effort." Most major D.C. streets were passable, she said.
"We are not talking about cleared, bare pavement. There are through lanes on all the main streets that are passable," she said.
By 5 p.m., the District had towed 288 cars parked on snow emergency routes and issued each owner a $250 citation, Miss Myers said.
Although forecasters gave ample warning about the approaching storm, there was little anyone could do to prevent a major disruption of events and activities.
BWI and Reagan National airports were to remain closed until the snow lets up, officials said, although they hoped to resume flights this morning.
Amtrak suspended rail service between Washington and Richmond, affecting all Amtrak travel south from Washington.
The Smithsonian Institution and the National Zoo were among many places that didn't open. The University of Maryland at College Park canceled a men's basketball game against Wake Forest last night. The George Washington birthday parade in Alexandria scheduled for today has been canceled.
Area hospitals asked residents with four-wheel drive vehicles to take nurses and doctors to the hospitals yesterday and today. Hospitals seeking volunteer drivers included Washington Hospital Center, Georgetown University Hospital, Inova Fairfax and Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham.
Hospital officials said they were not facing a shortage of critical staff, but volunteer drivers were needed to shuttle workers out and their replacements in.

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