- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2003

The Washington area is expected to remain all but shut down today as the region digs out from a winter storm that enters the record books by matching a snowfall 20 years ago that was the city's fifth-biggest ever.
Transportation officials said treacherous road conditions would persist throughout the area, where accumulations ranged from 15 inches on Capitol Hill to as much as 24 inches in Leesburg, Va., and 25 inches in Silver Spring.
The District's official measurement of snowfall, taken at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, was 16.1 inches, matching the city's fifth-worst snowstorm on record. That storm, in February 1983, also left more than 16 inches of snow.
"It's no man's land out there," said Paul McIntyre, state highway supervisor for Garrett County. "It looks more like Siberia than Maryland. It's hard to describe. You almost have to see it to believe it."
The storm, which dumped nearly 50 inches of snow on parts of Western Maryland and West Virginia, prompted government officials to declare states of emergency in the District, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
The 26 inches of snow recorded at Baltimore-Washington International Airport as well as the 16 inches measured at Reagan National kept both airports closed yesterday, but officials expected to resume some flights this morning.
Washington Dulles International Airport operated on a near-regular schedule, although Delta and United Airlines canceled flights there for most of the day.
The warm, moist southern air mass from the Gulf of Mexico that collided with a cold front to produce the heavy snowfall here tracked north yesterday along the East Coast, drawing moisture from the Atlantic and becoming a more typical nor'easter.
"A classic big snow," National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Woodcock said.
By 2 p.m., the storm had dumped 25 inches at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and proceeded to pound the Boston area.
Weather conditions in the Washington area are expected to improve today, with a high-pressure system from the south dispersing clouds and bringing warmer temperatures. The mercury should hit the low 40s by tomorrow or Thursday, Mr. Woodcock said. That could mean flooding in many areas.
As bad as it was for Washington and the vicinity, the storm paled in comparison with the city's heaviest snowstorm on record: The "Knickerbocker Storm" of January 1922 dropped 28 inches of snow and collapsed the roof of the Knickerbocker Theater, killing 100 persons.
A slew of fender-benders and snowbound motorists over the Presidents Day weekend notwithstanding about 200 car accidents and at least 764 stranded drivers were reported in Maryland alone the region escaped the intense snowfall relatively unscathed.
As of last night, the storm had resulted in no confirmed snow-related fatalities in the area. The report of a man dying of a heart attack while shoveling his driveway in Frederick proved to be false.
The storm was relentless enough to prevent snow-removal crews from fully clearing secondary streets and some main roads in Maryland and Virginia until tomorrow. In the District, it may be Thursday before neighborhood streets are plowed.
Most businesses and all schools in the city and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs will be closed today. Federal employees in the District have the day off; Maryland state workers will have liberal leave. Government offices in Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince George's counties are closed, as are those in such cities as Alexandria, Fairfax and Rockville.
The accidents and stranded vehicles on roads and highways kept emergency workers busy.
John Leasiolagi, a volunteer at the Cottage City Fire Company in Prince George's County, joined other firefighters in freeing vehicle after vehicle from the snow piling up near the station on Bladensburg Road. One was a tour bus carrying about 30 passengers.
"Everybody's pretty much helping people out," he said. "I definitely get a good feeling about that kind of stuff."
The region's power companies reported few outages. The snow was light in weight though heavy in volume, and the storm didn't leave the amount of ice that normally breaks off tree limbs and downs power lines.
However, heavy snow was blamed for roof collapses at the B&O; Railroad Museum in Baltimore, a gas station in Carroll County and an unoccupied American Legion post in Brunswick, Md. No injuries were reported.
Yesterday evening, Maryland officials were the most optimistic about getting major roads cleared or at least passable by this morning's rush hour.
"We are looking pretty good, actually," Maryland State Highway Administration spokeswoman Sandra Dobson said. "We've hit bare pavement already in some areas."
She said the snow removal was hampered only by motorists getting in the way of the plows or getting stuck and requiring road crews to come to their aid, diverting the workers from their job.
In the District, officials didn't expect major roads to be cleared until sometime tonight, Department of Public Works spokeswoman Mary Myers said.
"It will be a little rough for the commute," she said, adding that school and government closures would keep traffic light.
The District yesterday deployed 243 snow-removal trucks about 60 percent of the fleet on the streets. More plows and front-end loaders to clear big piles of snow were expected to join the effort last night, Ms. Myers said.
The city will not collect garbage and recycling today, freeing up sanitation workers to help clear snow, she said.
Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who had ordered all non-emergency vehicles off the road Sunday, lifted the driving ban yesterday but urged residents to stay home.
"We hope everyone will use discretion and good common sense and stay off the roads," Mr. Ehrlich said.
Major roads were in good shape but it would take time to get to secondary roads, the Republican governor said.
"Given the dimension of our storm, it will take days to get it done," he said.
Storm cleanup will cost Maryland about $25 million, Mr. Ehrlich said, and he will look for federal disaster relief to pay as much as 75 percent of the bill.
Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, in television appearances yesterday, also warned residents to stay off the roads.
"We're in the process of digging out," Mr. Warner said on WRC-TV (Channel 4). "My advice is: It's a holiday, stay indoors, curl up with a good book or go sledding with the kids."
Some roads in Northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, including Interstates 81 and 66, were nearly impassable or partially blocked yesterday. Virginia transportation officials did not expect to get to most neighborhood roads until sometime today.
Mr. Warner said he didn't know whether federal aid would be necessary to pay for the cleanup, but vowed to get the job done soon.
"This is why we pay our taxes in the first place," the Democratic governor said. "We are going to make sure all the roads are cleared."

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