- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2003

Special Report

From massive snowfall to flooding, residents in the Washington region have been battered by bad weather conditions that rewrote record books.
For road crews, retailers and virtually everyone else in the Baltimore-Washington area, the Presidents Day weekend will be remembered for the Blizzard of 2003. This weekend will be remembered for the rain and the flooding.
A record rainfall of 2.25 inches was recorded yesterday at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and there were reports of flooded basements in the metropolitan area and scattered reports of flooded streets and roads in Maryland and Virginia. The combination of heavy rain and up to 2 feet of melting snow on some buildings caused some roofs to collapse, including that of a Toys R Us store in Lanham.
As for last weekend's storm, what the National Weather Service described simply as a "complex storm system that produced precipitation" created an untenable combination of heavy, rapid snowfall, low temperatures, sleet and high winds throughout the region between Friday night, Feb. 14, and Tuesday morning, Feb. 18.
It was a combination that made roads impassable, stranding thousands of motorists, closed schools for days, shut down major airports and kept most people including merchants planning big Presidents Day sales housebound.
After pummeling the nation's capital, the storm roared up the East Coast. By the time it stopped Tuesday morning, it had dumped more than 2 feet of snow on some areas in the D.C. region.
At least 54 deaths nationally were linked to the snowstorm. In Maryland, at least nine persons about half of them children or teens died of carbon monoxide poisoning while sitting in cars with the engine running.
Most schools throughout the metropolitan area remained closed all week. On Friday, only two local public school systems those in the District and Falls Church had reopened.
"There were predictions this would be the snowstorm of the century," said Ryan Hall, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation.
It wasn't quite that dramatic for many residents in Virginia, but the Blizzard of 2003 lived up to its reputation as the storm of the century in some nearby areas. In Baltimore, for example, it became the "biggest snowstorm on record," dumping 28.2 inches of snow at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, said David Manning, a weather service meteorologist in Sterling, Va.
In the District, the snowstorm ranked as the "fifth largest" in history, Mr. Manning said. Capitol Hill received 15 inches of snow.
A snowfall of 16.7 inches was recorded at Reagan Airport.
Both Baltimore and Washington have been tracking snowfalls since 1870, according to Rich Hitchens, also a District-based weather service meteorologist.
He said no records were broken at Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va., last weekend. The snowfall there totaled 22.1 inches, 2.7 inches below the 24.8-inch record set by a snowstorm in January 1996. (Dulles has been keeping records only since 1962.)
Garrett County in Western Maryland was the subject of national network news for reporting a snowfall of 49 inches. "We track snowfall here based on official data from the state highway administration and the county roads department," said Garrett County Administrator Monty Pagenhardt, who confirmed the 49-inch figure.
Mr. Manning said snowfall of 44 inches was reported in the Garrett County community of Keyser Ridge. But another weather service meteorologist in Pittsburgh dismissed such figures.
"There was blowing, drifting snow that deep. In fact, people in Garrett County and Tucker County, W.Va., reported drifts of 15 feet. But the official snowfall for Garrett County was 24 inches," the meteorologist said in an interview.
But Mr. Pagenhardt vigorously disagreed. "We had every bit of 4 feet of snowfall here in Garrett County," he said, adding that schools in the county will not reopen until tomorrow.

Preparing for the onslaught
Road crews had expected the massive storm to hit the D.C. area. But they still had problems keeping pace, given the fact that at some times and in some areas snow was falling 2 to 3 inches an hour.
"We had a hard time keeping up with the snow as it progressed. We never got ahead of the storm, but we tried to stay with it," said Mr. Hall of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).
The National Weather Service first indicated the possibility of a "major winter storm … with a chance of snow" on Feb. 11, according to John Newkirk, program manager at the weather service's Sterling office.
"We issued a winter storm watch Thursday afternoon and put out a winter storm warning Friday morning," he said. Mr. Newkirk said the first warning predicted 4 to 8 inches of snow. "But as the storm got closer, the predicted snowfall went up to 15 to 25 inches," he said.
Local residents took the warnings seriously and jammed supermarkets to stock up on food and other supplies. By Friday many roads near food stores had bumper-to-bumper traffic.
"The storm first started as light rain late Friday, which became mixed with snow into Saturday morning," Mr. Manning said. "By sunrise, the precipitation turned to all snow."
In Virginia, VDOT crews were "fully mobilized" at 8 p.m. Friday. By 1:30 a.m. Saturday, "Crews were out getting snow off the roads," Mr. Hall said.
Nearly 2,000 people were on duty for each 12-hour shift, and they used about 1,600 pieces of equipment, he said.
Mr. Hall said the VDOT is responsible for clearing 15,000 miles of roads in Northern Virginia. Road crews in Maryland and the District faced 16,300 and 1,100 miles, respectively.
Crews from Maryland and the District were fully mobilized for duty, beginning at midnight Friday.
Virginia Gov. Mark Warner declared a state of emergency at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
The snowfall was light Saturday at Reagan Airport, which on that day received only 0.3 inches of snow. In contrast, 2.4 inches of snow fell that day at BWI and 4.2 inches at Dulles.

Starting up with a vengeance
"The snow stopped throughout most of the area between early Saturday evening and early Sunday morning. But then it started up again with a vengeance," Mr. Manning said.
Lora Rakowski, spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, said some of its crews were able to go home to rest during that brief period.
But events quickly changed for the worse.
The snowfall on Sunday was both heavy and fast throughout the metropolitan area. According to Mr. Manning, it fell at a rate of 2 inches per hour at Reagan Airport between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. Sunday.
Between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. Sunday, he said, it was falling at 3 inches per hour at the same location. "Snowfall at a rate of an inch per hour continued on and off throughout Sunday," he added.
Mr. Manning said BWI and Dulles also had accumulations of between 1 and 2 inches an hour throughout much of Sunday.
Between midnight Saturday and midnight Sunday, he said, 21.8 inches of snow fell at BWI. The totals at Reagan Airport and Dulles during that same 24-hour period were 13.3 inches and 15.9 inches, respectively, the meteorologist said.
Winds gusting up to 29 mph added to the problems. In New York, winds of 40 mph were reported, aggravating blowing and drifting conditions.
As conditions worsened on Sunday, Northern Virginia's snow-removal crews turned more and more to heavier equipment, such as snowblowers, motor graders, which look like giant tractors with large blades, and front-end loaders, according to Mr. Hall.
"We used snowblowers along I-66 from Gainesville in Loudon County to the Fauquier County line. The snow there was so thick it couldn't be pushed out of the way. The blowers cut a path through that snow," he said.
In Maryland, 2,400 personnel and 2,200 pieces of equipment were in service at the height of the storm, said Ms. Rakowski of the state highway administration.
Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. declared a state of emergency at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. The District followed suit at 4 p.m. that day.
Meanwhile, crews at Reagan Airport and BWI were forced to shut down runways. Dulles, which has three runways, managed to keep one open Sunday. By Monday, two were open. All three were back in business by Wednesday.
Reagan Airport reopened its one runway Tuesday morning at 7 a.m. BWI, which has two runways, reopened one Wednesday and the second Thursday. BWI spokeswoman Tracy Newman said the first arrivals there were deferred until 3 p.m. Wednesday, after some 70 planes stranded at the airport by the storm were allowed to take off.
Mary Myers, spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Public Works, said the declaration Sunday of a public emergency in the District gave as many as 450 snow-removal employees the first hot meal they had for at least two days. "Previously, we couldn't buy food for those people," she said, except for food that could be bought at McDonald's using coupons.
"Once the public emergency was enacted, we contacted the Convention Center, which put together some huge vats of food" for the tired and hungry workers, Ms. Myers said.
In Maryland, road crews were given significant assistance by an executive order issued Sunday at 4 p.m. by Mr. Ehrlich that allowed only emergency vehicles to travel on state roads during a 24-hour period, according to Ms. Rakowski.
She said Maryland highway crews assisted 844 vehicles during the storm. The list included those that were disabled and those involved in crashes or other incidents.
The Maryland State Police said troopers aided 2,103 stranded motorists on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, a spokesman said.
By Sunday night, sleet entered the already miserable storm picture. Initially, there was snow mixed with sleet, but eventually, there was only sleet, as temperatures at Reagan National Airport hovered in the lower 20s to the upper teens.
Mr. Manning said the sleet was a key reason snowfall was lower at the close-in airport than in the surrounding suburbs. "There was a lot of sleet from the city east. Because sleet is heavier and more dense [than snow], it compacts the snow that accumulates," he said.

Paying the price
The worst of the blizzard was over by Monday. Nevertheless, there was more snow early that day. At Reagan Airport, 2.7 inches of snow fell. That compared with 2.6 inches at BWI and 1.6 inches at Dulles.
"After slowing down and stopping, the snow started up again at midnight Monday," Mr. Newkirk said. The snowfall Tuesday was 1.4 inches at BWI, 0.4 inches at Reagan and 0.7 inches at Dulles, he said.
While the worst of the snow was over by the start of the new week, the hazardous road conditions as people sought to leave their homes led to the bulk of the deaths caused by the storm.
The 54 known snow-related deaths nationally included 12 in Pennsylvania; two in Illinois; seven in West Virginia; six in Missouri; two in Virginia; at least nine in Maryland; four in New York; four in Iowa; three in Tennessee; and one each in Nebraska, Ohio, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
The nine confirmed deaths in Maryland were all caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. Several other possible snow-related deaths in that state are still being investigated, a staffer with the Maryland Medical Examiner's Office said.
The carbon monoxide cases involved children and others who were inside cars with the engines running to keep warm. The victims were in cars whose tailpipes were blocked by snow, causing a backup of exhaust fumes. They included a 4-year-old girl from Aspen Hill; a 12-year-old boy from Mount Airy; and three boys, ages 11, 12 and 16, from Baltimore.
Attempts to reach the Virginia Medical Examiner's Office were unsuccessful.
The D.C. Medical Examiner's Office said it had no snow-related deaths, even though it did handle the case of the 4-year-old Montgomery County girl, who died at Children's Hospital.
While school systems decide how they will be making up for snow days, state and local governments stricken by the storm are trying to determine its cost and how they will pay for it.
D.C. officials say they don't yet have a price tag. But the VDOT and the Maryland State Highway Administration each estimate this storm could cost them as much as $30 million. Maryland road officials say they were already $14 million over budget before the storm.
Boston, which had a record 27.5 inches of snowfall from last weekend's storm, will be seeking financial help from the state government to pay for cleanup costs. Massachusetts state officials said they have spent at least $62 million for snow removal so far this year. That doesn't count the latest storm, which will cost another $7 million or $8 million. Unfortunately, Massachusetts budgeted only $16 million for snow removal in fiscal 2003.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg estimates the storm will cost his city $20 million, or about $1 million for each inch of snow.
The picture is especially bleak for cash-strapped New Jersey. The state budgeted $15 million for snow removal and used $14 million in this storm. Meanwhile, highway officials had already asked for $30 million to remove snow this year.
The blizzard also meant large losses for the commercial sector, given that it hit when big sales were scheduled. A research firm called ShopperTrak said sales in the northeast region of the country during this Presidents' Day weekend plunged $422 million from the same weekend last year.
On Monday, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who had cut short a Puerto Rican vacation because of the storm, said it was unlikely the District's snow would be removed for up to three days.
But by Friday, said Ms. Myers, "We've cleared 97 percent of residential streets and made them passable. So we've come really close to the mark."
She said trash collection in the District is to resume tomorrow.


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