Inch of Snow Snarls Traffic Ahead of Expected Blizzard

A crippling, historic snowstorm is still expected, with a blizzard watch issued; 18-24 inches of snow are possible

Drivers crashed on icy roads and sat in gridlock for hours Wednesday night after an inch of snow fell in the D.C. area -- two days before a blizzard is expected to dump as much as 2 feet of snow.

A thin layer of snow glazed streets with ice starting about 7 p.m., forcing the closure of highway ramps and side streets. The all-red traffic maps were reminiscent of "Carmageddon" in January 2011, when heavy snow fell fast across the region, knocking down trees and power lines and making a mess of the evening commute.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser advised drivers to stay off roads in the District. 

"Due to icy road conditions, residents are asked to avoid travel this evening to allow crews to continue to treat the roads asked to clear sidewalks," she said in a statement. "If you must travel this evening, please use extreme caution, as temperatures and precipitation will create hazardous conditions." 

Crews will work overnight to clear D.C. streets before Thursday morning rush hour.

Even President Barack Obama's motorcade was stuck in traffic. According to White House pool reports, Obama was driven by car 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.

Storm Team4 predicted about an inch of snow would fall after 6 p.m. -- not usually enough for a Winter Weather Advisory -- but an advisory 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.

At the airports, there’s already a scramble to rebook flights and get out of town before the storm hits. News4’s Adam Tuss reports from Reagan National.

Storm Team4 is expecting 18 to 24 inches of snow across the D.C. area starting about 5 p.m. Friday. Snow may fall for 36 hours straight, meaning you may need to stay wherever you sleep Friday. The impact may tear down power lines and force road closures, so be prepared.

D.C. began pretreating roads at 4 p.m., D.C. Department of Public Works Director Chris Shorter said.

"We have ramped up and have now tripled the number of trucks we'll have on the roads to make sure we clear the roads tonight for tomorrow's commute," Shorter said.

Virginia officials did not pretreat roads in Northern Virginia Wednesday because temperatures were in the 20s and the treatment would have frozen, a Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman said. Salt trucks will work overnight to try to clean up the mess, he said.

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."

EMS workers may need to improvise their response to emergencies if streets aren't plowed, Prince George's County fire department spokesman Mark Brady said.

"You may see a totally different vehicle arrive. It might be a four-wheel-drive Jeep with a plow on it and a couple firefighters that will pull you out of your house, put your aboard that Jeep and take you to a waiting ambulance on one of the cleared main roads," he said.

To help firefighters, clear snow about 3 feet around the nearest fire hydrant.

As of 9 p.m., Virginia state troopers were responding to 172 crashes statewide, including a fatal crash in Bedford County. A state trooper working a crash on Interstate 495 in Northern Virginia was struck by another vehicle and is being treated for minor injuries.

As of 9 p.m. in Maryland, one crash was reported in Frederick, five in Rockville and 13 in Montgomery County.

At a news conference Wednesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser discussed the city’s plans to keep residents safe during the impending snow storm. News4’s Tom Sherwood reports.

A blizzard watch will go into effect Friday afternoon and remain through late Saturday night, Storm Team4 said. A blizzard watch means conditions are favorable for a snowstorm with winds exceeding 35 mph.

Due to the approaching storm, the University of Maryland will be closed Friday through Sunday. However, student move-in will continue Friday, as weather allows, and school staff essential to moving will be on hand. Move-in will begin early at 8 a.m. and continue until 5 p.m. It is suspended for Saturday. Monitor the school's website for updates about Sunday.  

The snow will be fairly dry at first, getting wetter and heavier during the strongest part of the storm. Heavy winds will be a concern as well, with strong winds in the D.C. area, 50- to 60-mph winds on the coast, and 50-mph winds on the Chesapeake Bay.

Both the weight of the snow and the heavy winds could lead to power outages. If you haven't started already, you should begin preparing for the storm.

The snowfall should be over by the time you wake up Sunday morning, but it could take awhile for the region to dig out.

Historic Amounts of Snowfall Possible

Storm Team4 is expecting 18 to 24 inches of snow during this storm -- and that range would put this storm firmly in the top five biggest snowfalls of all time for the region.

For reference, the December 2009 and February 2010 snowstorms commonly called "Snowmageddon" and "Snowpocalypse" clocked in at 16.4 inches and 17.8 inches, respectively.

If we get 24 inches of snow, this storm would be the second-biggest snowstorm of all time, coming in only after 1922's devastating storm, also known as the Knickerbocker blizzard. During that storm, heavy snow caused the roof of the Knickerbocker Theatre to collapse in Adams Morgan, killing 98 people and seriously injuring 133.

If we get 18 inches of snow, this storm would unseat the infamous February 2010 snowstorm from its 4th-place spot. 

In other words, it's highly likely that this snowstorm will be one we'll be talking about for a long time.

Dr. Jackie Eghrari-Sabet, of Family Allergy & Asthma Care in Gaithersburg, Maryland, shares a list of things to remember as we deal with the cold and the snow.
Be on the lookout for homeless people, who could get hypothermia during this cold spell. If you see someone in the D.C. area who needs shelter or warmer clothing, call the following numbers:
  • D.C. -- 1-800-535-7252 or 311
  • Arlington County, Virginia -- 703-527-4077
  • Prince George's County, Maryland -- 888-731-0999
  • Maryland Crisis Hotline -- 301-662-2255
  • Montgomery County, Maryland -- 240-777-4000
  • Fairfax County, Virginia -- 703-691-2131 (non-emergency police number)

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