- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2007

The region had its first snowfall of the winter yesterday, creating slippery roads and numerous accidents, including a fatal crash in Winchester, Va.

The snow arrived first in Virginia in the late morning, and crews were able to treat roads with salt and sand by the early afternoon.

Concern then shifted to precipitation late last night that turned to sleet and drizzle that would coat roads with ice and create dangerous conditions, especially on bridges and overpasses.

The National Weather Service put a winter weather advisory into effect for the District and Maryland until early this morning, but forecaster Luis Rosa said the precipitation would stop overnight at about 1 to 2 inches of accumulation and that temperatures would rise to about 44 degrees, 12 degrees above freezing and about 17 degrees warmer than the low yesterday.

The weather pattern began as rain in the northern Alabama and Mississippi and turned to snow when it hit colder air to the north.

Measurable snow hadn’t fallen in the region since March 21, and an unusually warm winter included a record-breaking December for some parts of the country. But the chilly temperatures and gray sky early yesterday morning gave a clear sign that winter was here.

One person was killed and five others hospitalized in the accident on Interstate 81 near Winchester, when the driver of a southbound vehicle with four persons inside lost control on the icy road, crossed the median and hit another vehicle headed north about 1 p.m., Sgt. Les Tyler of the Virginia State Police said.

Odessa Smith, 47, of Barboursville, a passenger in the Toyota SUV that went out of control, was pronounced dead at the scene. Sgt. Tyler said.

The driver, Thomasina Bryant, 36, of Charlottesville, was taken to Winchester Medical Center along with two 17-year-olds who were in the back seat and the husband and wife in the northbound vehicle, he said.

The teenagers were Miss Bryant’s son and Miss Smith’s son.

Conditions of the injured were not available.

The Maryland State Highway Administration had 1,200 workers on roads. The surfaces of the Capital Beltway and most other major roads were reduced to wet slush by the afternoon, but several single-vehicle accidents were reported in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

“People are still getting used to the first snow of the season, probably driving a little too quickly,” said David Buck, an agency spokesman.

Tim Lawler, an operator at Maryland’s Emergency Operations Center in Hanover, said all major interstates and primary roads appeared to be wet last evening.

“Things are actually looking very good at this moment,” Mr. Lawler said early in the evening. “The snow is starting to taper off.”

“We got a quick head start on this one,” he said. “It was a good practice storm to have — if there is such a thing as a practice storm.”

The storm system started to break up across the Chesapeake Bay and dumped less snow on the Eastern Shore.

D.C. crews began treating streets by 8 a.m., said Erik Linden, spokesman for the District Department of Transportation. Assisted by about 140 pieces of equipment — mostly lightweight snowplows that also can spray de-icer and salt — they started with primary streets, commuter routes, bridges and overpasses, then moved to side streets.

“At this point, we are very under control.” Mr. Linden said by midafternoon. “We have been preparing since August.”

Emeka Moneme, the transportation department’s acting director, said crews have had opportunities to perform dry-run exercises and maintain equipment.

“The warm weather so far this season has given us a chance to redouble our readiness efforts,” Mrs. Moneme said. “Today, we stand ready for the season’s first storm and for storms that loom throughout the remainder of winter.”

City officials urged commuters to take Metro subways and buses today to avoid driving hazards. Metro yesterday reported no delays nor plans to adjust for the morning commute.

Perry Cogburn, director of Virginia Department of Transportation, said snow fell across the entire state.

The regions north and west of Richmond seemed the hardest hit, with as much as 3 inches of snow falling in areas west of Charlottesville. In western Virginia, the snow, sleet and freezing rain created ice a quarter-inch thick in places. Officials said the northbound lanes of Interstate 81 in Salem were closed for about an hour after a tractor-trailer jackknifed in the early evening.

AAA Mid-Atlantic warned that icy roads could continue into the morning commute.

Spokesman John B. Townsend II expressed concern that warmer weather delayed motorists’s plans to winterize their cars.

Tow-truck driver Rod Malone, buying fuel at a Northeast gas station, was expecting a busy night.

“The first thing people do around here when it snows or rains is speed up,” said Mr. Malone, a driver for AnA Towing in Southeast.

• Jim McElhatton contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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