- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2006

Washington-area commuters will face a nasty drive this morning, dodging the icy patches left after a weekend storm that dumped more than 8 inches of snow and caused widespread power outages in the region.

“Everything will be freezing up tomorrow that doesn’t dry up or blow away,” Jackie Hale, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said yesterday. “Everything that was wet or looks wet will probably be frozen early in the morning.”

The weekend’s snowfall — close to 20 inches in some areas — paralyzed air travel. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was closed most of yesterday morning, Washington Dulles International Airport was shut down to one runway, and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport had closed runways during the storm. Most flights to New York and Boston, where as much as 30 inches of snow fell, were canceled.

Airports were expected to be back to full capacity today.

Not everyone was inconvenienced by the powder. Children broke out underutilized sleds and hit the region’s best hills by the thousands. On the neighborhood hill adjacent to Belvedere Elementary in Anne Arundel County, everyone from toddlers to teens — with more than few dads thrown in — was racing down and stumbling back up the steep slope.

At the top, parents watched the children and wondered aloud when the electricity might be back on — almost 60,000 homes were without power in that county yesterday.

Transportation officials warned motorists to take special care while driving this morning.

“Beware of the refreeze overnight,” Chuck Gischlar, a spokesman with the Maryland State Highway Administration said yesterday. “People just have to take it easy, take it slow, pay attention and see how the road conditions are.”

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) promised that crews would monitor the roads overnight and throughout this morning and would lay down chemicals and sand as needed.

But Virginia transportation officials worried that neighborhoods and subdivisions — where the agency does not put down chemicals and only sands hills and sharp curves — could cause problems for some commuters.

“Tonight’s temperatures could make the side streets pretty rough,” Joan Morris, a spokesperson for VDOT, said yesterday afternoon. “We’re just getting into the subdivisions, so it’s going to be quite some time before we have plowed all of them.”

Schools in Montgomery, Fairfax, Prince George’s, Prince William, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties will be closed today. Schools in the District were set to open two hours late. Calvert and Charles counties schools open two hours late, but there will be no kindergarten or pre-kindergarten classes.

Temperatures were expected to drop this morning to between 15 and 20 degrees. Winds were forecast at 15 to 25 mph, meteorologists said.

Officials expected temperatures to climb to the upper 30s today with winds between 10 and 15 mph. Temperatures were expected to drop to the low 20s tonight. Tomorrow’s temperatures are expected to be in the low 40s as part of a gradual warming trend into the middle of the week.

Wet snow piling up on tree limbs and branches and falling on electric lines caused the region’s major power outages, spokespeople for the area’s power companies said yesterday.

Baltimore Gas and Electric, which serves 1.2 million customers in Central Maryland, Anne Arundel County and some in Montgomery and Prince George’s, had 90,179 customers without power at midafternoon, most of those in Anne Arundel. That was an increase from 82,408 in the morning, said spokesperson Linda Foy.

Ms. Foy predicted that snow-caused outages would be repaired shortly after noon today.

Pepco, which serves the District, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, had crews scrambling to fix 60,000 outages yesterday morning. Of those, about 40,000 were in Prince George’s.

Dominion Electric Power, which serves most of Northern Virginia, began with 108,000 outages. By midafternoon, 41,000 remained to be fixed. Hardest hit was the Springfield area, where 17,000 customers were still without power as of last night.

Many Northern Virginia outages were caused by 23 falling trees. Thirteen were in Springfield, said Le-Ha Anderson, Dominion spokeswoman.

More than 200,000 people from Virginia to Massachusetts were without electricity, and churches throughout the affected areas canceled services.

The massive storm system pounded the East Coast yesterday, burying a more than 58-year-old record in New York City, piling up 26.9 inches on the ground in Central Park. The previous record of 26.4 inches was set in December 1947.

“New York City has just experienced the biggest blizzard in its history,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said.

With winds gusting up to 60 mph in the northern reaches of the weather front, the National Weather Service characterized the situation as dangerous. The winds blew the snow sideways and threatened coastal flooding in New England. And in a rare display, lightning lit up the falling snow before dawn in the New York metro area.

The storm closed all three of the New York area’s major airports, and airlines canceled more than 500 inbound and departing flights.

An early Valentine’s Day getaway to Massachusetts turned into snowbound jail for Dave Allison and Beth Todzia of southern Connecticut.

They stood inside a Dunkin’ Donuts in Boston, watching snow rip past the window and “trying to figure out how to get home,” Mr. Allison said.

The airport closures and grounded planes stranded travelers elsewhere across the country. About 7,500 people were stuck at Florida’s Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

“We’ve been playing cards for two hours. We expect to play a lot more cards,” Cliff Jefferson said about nine hours into his stay at the airport.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports

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