Carmageddon II: Chaos on the Roads Ahead of Potentially Historic Blizzard

Just call it Carmageddon II. An inch of snow ground D.C. traffic to a halt Wednesday night, leaving drivers stuck in hours of traffic and causing some to abandon their vehicles. And nearly as much aggravation on the roads spilled over into Thursday.

The chaos came less than two days before a blizzard is expected to dump as much as two feet of snow on the region Friday and Saturday before it's all over.

"I was only doing 15 mph with good tires and the SUV I was driving slid the entire time," driver Chuck Thompson posted on NBC Washington's Facebook page. "Making it up inclines was nearly impossible. Imagine a car trying to drive on a skating rink."

He added, "This had nothing to do with good versus bad drivers or the D.C./Metro area overreacting to an inch of snow. It was downright dangerous."

Drivers crashed on icy roads and sat in gridlock for hours Wednesday night, and Beltway traffic was snarled again Thursday morning, with miles-long delays on both the Inner and Outer loops.

By 6 a.m. Thursday, Virginia State Police had responded to 24 accidents and 70 calls about disabled vehicles in Northern Virginia.

“It is our commitment that we will not see a repeat of what happened last night,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova said.

Bulova noted the Virginia Department of Transportation is responsible for treating and clearing roads – not the county – and VDOT may have been caught off guard Wednesday while preparing for the possible blizzard coming Friday.

“I think VDOT, frankly, was so focused on getting ready for Friday and the weekend … when a very small snow event happened they were not prepared for it,” she said.

The road conditions prompted many school systems to cancel or delay classes.

Several abandoned cars have been left at Tilden Street NW between Spring of Freedom Street and Beach Drive in the District, and at the intersection of 34th Street and Ordway Road NW. There, D.C. police closed the streets due to the icy conditions Thursday morning.

Nicholas Kelly said he saw "no sign of a salt truck" Wednesday evening and spotted every make and size of vehicle having trouble. 

"There are not enough words to describe the level of frustration that is felt, still, from yesterday's snowfall," Kelly wrote on NBC Washington's Facebook page on Thursday morning.

Although just a small amount of snow fell across the D.C. area, it all stuck to the roads, and a thin layer of snow glazed streets with ice, forcing the closure of highway ramps and side streets.

"That inch of snow turned to a sheet of ice," driver Debbie Mays told NBC Washington on Facebook. "That's what caused all the problems. Snow you can at least get traction in; on ice you need chains or skates."

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser apologized Thursday for the city's "inadequate response" to Wednesday night's snow and ice.

"We should have been out earlier with more resources. We have a responsibility, and last night we did not meet those goals. For that, I'm very sorry," Bowser said Thursday.

The mayor assured residents the city will be prepared for the blizzard.

Were Roads Pretreated?

While all focus seemed turned toward the impending blizzard, D.C. crews did begin pretreating roads at 4 p.m. Wednesday, D.C. Department of Public Works Director Chris Shorter said. However, many roads were quickly coated with snow during the evening commute nonetheless.

Virginia officials didn't pretreat roads in Northern Virginia Wednesday because temperatures were down in the 20s, which meant the treatment would have frozen, a Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) spokesman said.

VDOT's Jennie McCord told WTOP that VDOT had about 125 trucks ready to go for Wednesday evening's rush hour, but that when officials saw "the snow was sustaining," they called for a total of 500 trucks. By then, however, it "took quite a while" to get them deployed.

Salt trucks worked overnight to try to clean up the mess.

In Maryland, crews got stuck in lengthy backups Wednesday night, slowing their progress, state Department of Transportation spokesman Charlie Gischlar said. Crews were making progress Thursday morning, he said.

A snow emergency plan in Montgomery County was lifted at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

However, Gov. Larry Hogan said Maryland is ready for the blizzard. "We're prepared," he said. "I would advise people to not overreact, yet but get prepared."

Dozens of Crashes; Even Obama Stuck in Traffic

The all-red traffic maps Wednesday night were reminiscent of "Carmageddon" in January 2011, when wet, heavy snow fell fast across the region, knocking down trees and power lines and making a mess of the evening commute.

Even President Barack Obama's motorcade ended up stuck in traffic.

According to White House pool reports, Obama was driven from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland to the White House after bad weather grounded helicopters. A drive that usually takes 25 minutes took more than an hour, reports said. Vehicles in the president's motorcade skipped and slid, making contact with curbs. White House reporters spotted at least three crashes along the way.

As of 9 p.m. Wednesday, Virginia state troopers had responded to 172 crashes statewide, including a fatal crash in Bedford County.

A state trooper working a crash on the Beltway in Northern Virginia was struck by another vehicle and is being treated for minor injuries. By 9 p.m. Wednesday in Maryland, 13 crashes were reported in Montgomery County, five in Rockville and one in Frederick.

Storm Team4 had predicted about an inch of snow would fall after 6 p.m. Wednesday, not usually enough for a Winter Weather Advisory, but one was issued until midnight because recent low temperatures meant the snow would stick and create slick conditions for drivers.

That advisory was extended until 2 a.m. Thursday for Maryland.

"I think this system just caught everyone off guard and it happened at rush hour[;] just bad timing." Shaquana Bello posted on NBC Washington's Facebook page.

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