- The Washington Times - Monday, March 2, 2009

UPDATED:

The region’s first major storm of the winter season brought as much as 10 inches of snow through Monday morning, closing most major school systems and snarling the morning commute.

The storm, which started Saturday and returned Sunday in two parts, hit Southern and eastern Maryland the hardest. Officials in St. Mary’s County reported as much as 10 inches of snow. They said the weight of the moist snow and ice over the weekend downed utility lines and caused widespread power outages.

The District had received roughly 3 inches and was expected to get 1 or 2 more before the powerful, late-winter storm moved into the Northeast, according to the National Weather Service.

Philadelphia, New York and then New England could get as much as 14 inches.

“It’ll be a classic nor’easter,” National Weather Service forecaster Calvin Meadows said.

Strong winds and colder air have accompanied the storm, temperatures are in the 20s across the region, and wind gusts are reaching 35 mph.

Universities and school systems across Virginia and Maryland are closed, including those in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and in Alexandria and the rest of Northern Virginia. District schools are opening two hours late.

The federal government also is opening two hours late. However, a rally on Capitol Hill to urge Congress to pass more “green” initiatives still is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on the West Lawn.

Regan National and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall airports have only minor delays, but many flights in the Northeast are canceled.

No major accidents are being reported, but there are widespread reports on slippery bridges and overpasses.

Metro trains are on or near schedule, but buses and MetroAccess trips are delayed because of the slippery streets, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority said.

Pepco reports 860 customers are without power. Baltimore Gas and Electric reported 3,865 without power as of 9 a.m. and said as many as 18,073 were without power as a result of the storm. Dominion Power reports 7,448 customers without power in Northern Virginia and more than 17,000 outages in the southeast region.

There was no question Sunday that the storm would arrive from the south, as forecasters and transportation officials watched images of the powerful late-winter storm dump roughly 4 inches of snow onto Alabama and other Southern states, canceling church services and snarling highway traffic. But predicting exactly how the storm would track up the East Coast and when it would hit the D.C. region was not so easy.

“We’re playing the waiting game,” Kellie Boulware, spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, said early Sunday night.

The first storm in the weekend one-two punch had long passed with little notice as Miss Boulware and other officials awaited the second storm, which arrived in the early evening. The snow finally began sticking to streets and grass about 11 p.m.

The District took no chances. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty announced Sunday morning that the city’s snow-emergency plan would go into effect at 4 p.m.

“It is important that our crews have access to the roads from curb to curb to plow the snow,” said Mr. Fenty, a Democrat. “This is one of the first plow events we have had this season, and we want to ensure we are able to maintain clear and safe roadways as we move into Monday morning.”

However, the city canceled the plan late Sunday night. If reinstituted, vehicles cannot be parked on routes identified by “Snow Emergency Route” signs. Violators will be ticketed and towed, and owners will be charged a $250 fine. Officials also warned commuters that taxis can increase fares by 25 percent during such emergencies.

The city’s snow team of roughly 300 pieces of equipment treated bridges, roads and overpasses Saturday night before the first storm, then redeployed at 2 p.m. Sunday.

The team includes heavy and light plows, sprayer trucks and contract plows. City officials said they also will use more than 100 closed-circuit traffic cameras to monitor conditions.

Despite the advance warning, Karyn Le Blanc, D.C. Department of Transportation spokeswoman, said Sunday evening that she had just learned that the National Weather Service had revised its forecast and that the heaviest snow would arrive largely between 7 p.m. and midnight but that much of it would still come in isolated bands through the morning rush hour. She said motorists, parents and others should check Web sites, TV and other news outlets for the latest on the storm.

A winter storm warning is in effect for the region until 2 p.m. Monday.

In Georgia, flights were canceled early in the day at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Delays ranged from about 15 minutes to as long as two hours for flights to Newark International Airport in New Jersey, according to a Federal Aviation Administration Web site.

Strong winds and much colder air have accompanied the storm; temperatures are in the 20s across the region and wind gusts are reaching 35 mph. The Associated Press reports power outages in Virginia, including 5,500 in southwest. Dominion Power reported 10,330, most in the southside area.

Unlike most of the minor snowstorms this year, this one stayed east of Interstate 95, as predicted. The storm is moving to the Northeast and will bring as much as 14 inches of snow to Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

Taya Jarman, a Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman, said Sunday that crews began working 12-hour shifts at about noon and would continue that cycle throughout the storm.

She also said crews had to be “reactive” and treat roads with sand and salt because the rain from the first storm kept the de-icing chemicals from working.

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