- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The year’s first snowfall surprised motorists yesterday and caused widespread delays and crashes, despite the near-perfect prediction by forecasters who called for the brief but intense midday storm.

“I kind of expected this, but didn’t know it would be this much,” said Carlton Whitfield, a SuperShuttle driver who pulled over on New York Avenue. “I feel it’s too dangerous to drive.”

Emergency officials said that they were ready for the predicted 1 to 3 inches of snow and that crews began salting roads in the early morning. But freezing temperatures and the storm’s intensity created dangerous road conditions shortly after the snow began falling at about 10 a.m.

“The roadway surfaces are really cold, the snow is really dry, and the temperatures are really low,” said Tom Orr, chief of Montgomery County’s highway maintenance department. “If you combine all those factors, the salt and the chemicals are not as effective.”

Fairfax County police yesterday reported a vehicle fatality among the widespread accidents related to the storm. They said a woman was killed near the corner of U.S. 1 and Gunston Road in Lorton shortly before 2 p.m., but provided no further details.

The snow, from a storm in the Ohio Valley, stopped falling by mid-afternoon. But officials said temperatures remaining in the 20s and low 30s could cause additional problems overnight and during this morning’s commute.

Damion Codrington, a music program director at XM Satellite Radio, agreed that the bad weather combined with street closings for the inauguration will create more tough commutes.

“If I’m late, hopefully my boss will understand,” he said. “The roads should be pretty interesting.”

A six-vehicle crash on Interstate 270 also was among the more serious accidents yesterday. Officials said the accident occurred at about 11 a.m. near the Montgomery County-Frederick County line and involved a propane tank. No major injuries were reported.

Almost every motorist traveling after the morning commute arrived at their destination with stories about snail-paced traffic, spinouts and fender benders.

One driver reported seeing incidents of road rage and impatience as drivers on the Capital Beltway drove on the shoulder or tailgated slower cars. Many said their commutes to work took about three times longer than usual.

A 10-vehicle crash occurred on Interstate 95 near Fredericksburg, Va., when cars started going around a snow plow clearing northbound lanes, causing the plow driver to lose control and the plow to overturn. Several vehicles tried to go around the overturned plow and also lost control, causing multiple crashes, police said.

The National Weather Service is calling for snow flurries today throughout the region and a 50 percent chance of snow through the weekend.

Montgomery County fire department spokesman Pete Piringer reported delays caused by several accidents, including one at the intersection of 16th Street and East West Highway near Silver Spring.

Prince George’s County fire department spokesman Mark Brady also reported numerous accidents.

In Northern Virginia, 300 salt trucks were dispatched at 8 a.m., said Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Joan Morris. A Virginia State Police official reported at least 30 accidents in the region.

The District had 120 trucks and snow plows salting and clearing roads at 10 a.m., Department of Transportation spokesman Bill Rice said. The crews were scheduled to work until 9 p.m. yesterday. A few will remain on standby to ensure the parade route for the presidential inauguration remains clear.

The snow also prompted numerous school delays, cancellations and early closings yesterday. Prince George’s, Montgomery and Anne Arundel schools were scheduled to open two hours late this morning. Schools in Northern Virginia are closed for the inauguration.

The Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport had numerous delays, said Tom Sullivan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority.

He said the biggest problems occurred at Reagan National, where some flights were delayed for about 45 minutes because the three runways intersect, so all of them had to be closed while one and the intersection were cleared of snow. Officials at Baltimore-Washington International Airport reported no additional delays on arrivals and takeoffs as a result of the snow.

Metro officials reported no significant delays in subway service, but said buses were delayed because of the road conditions, snow-clearing crews and streets closed for the presidential inauguration ceremonies.

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