More snow and longer storm now expected
FORECASTERS CALL FOR UP TO 10 INCHES Likelihood of delays and closures in region rises
As the Washington region braced Saturday for its first significant snowfall of the winter, forecasters upped their inch totals and predicted the storm would last longer than previously expected, making it more likely that delays and closures could occur Monday.
Even before the first flakes fell midafternoon, forecasters had increased the possible snow totals for the immediate area to four to 10 inches, which would make it the biggest January snowstorm since 2016.
The National Weather Service predicted six to eight inches for the District and five to 10 inches for surrounding suburbs. The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang forecast four to eight inches for the immediate metro area, with more snow to the south and less to the north.
Areas west and south of the city — parts of Prince William County, southern Fairfax County and especially Fredericksburg and southern Maryland — could experience five to 10 inches, said Jason Samenow, the Capital Weather Gang’s chief meteorologist.
“It’s a substantial snowstorm for the area — not historic but a moderate-to-substantial snowstorm for us,” he said. “It’s now looking to be a long-duration event.”
Although Samenow and others had initially predicted that snow would stop falling early Sunday afternoon, he said it is now likely to stretch into the evening. That would give plows less time to reach secondary and
neighborhood roads before the Monday morning commute, making school and government delays or cancellations more likely.
The National Weather Service extended its winter storm warning to 6 p.m. Sunday and warned that traveling would become “very hazardous or impossible.”
“We thought if it ended [earlier] Sunday, things would be back to normal by Monday,” Samenow said, “but probably not now.”
The storm had already brought sleet, freezing rain and snow to the Midwest, with St. Louis reporting 10.1 inches by Saturday morning and ice downing trees and power lines in south-central Missouri, according to Weather.com.
In Washington, the partial shutdown of the federal government will not leave federally controlled roads unplowed.
Although National Park Service employees have been furloughed, the agency will continue to clear snow from roads it operates, including the George Washington Memorial Parkway, Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Rock Creek Parkway and parts of roads around the Mall, spokesman Mike Litterst said.
The Park Service also will clear sidewalks around Metro station entrances on its property, including along the Mall and at Arlington National Cemetery, he said.
The center reversible lane on the Arlington Memorial Bridge will be closed during the storm to allow crews to move large equipment and snowplows, Litterst said.
Across the Washington region, sidewalks turned light blue with salt and plows stood ready as residents snapped up ice scrapers and scrambled for grocery store carts.
Highway crews sprayed salt mixtures on roads and highways to prevent icing and allow plows to hit the pavement more quickly.
“The trucks are loaded throughout Northern Virginia and are staged or moving,” said Jenni McCord, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Plows will get to work after one to two inches have fallen, she said, but they will need several passes anywhere that gets the forecast maximum of 10 inches. Interstates and roads serving hospitals, fire stations and other emergency facilities will be given priority, she said.
Neighborhood streets, she said, “may take a little bit of time to get to.”
With pavement temperatures expected to dip below freezing overnight, McCord said, even pretreated roads could become slick quickly.
Ashley Ross-Scott, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, said it helped that the storm arrived as snow rather than rain, which washes away the salt mixture.
Motorists who can’t stay off the roads should at least stick to plowed roads, she said.
“The safest place is behind the plow — and give it plenty of clearance,” Ross-Scott said.
Some residents got ready for the storm by snapping up sleds and stocking refrigerators. Traffic trying to get into a Whole Foods in Bethesda backed up onto River Road, while shoppers at grocery stores in Arlington and Northwest Washington said carts were scarce and lines long.
At Annie’s Ace Hardware Store in Petworth, three sleds remained by early Saturday afternoon. Snow-weary shoppers loaded up on the usual ice melt, shovels and windshield scrapers — and something not often equated with a snow day.
“I was most surprised to see how many people were buying paint for a fun snowed-in activity,” said owner Anne Stom. “I’ve noticed more people seem to be nervous about heavy snow hitting the District.”
At Strosniders Hardware Store in Bethesda, clerks directed customers to checkout lines and unloaded cases of ice melt as a light snow fell outside.
“The panic has begun,” a clerk declared.
Samenow said the snow should be powdery — not as good for snowballs as a wet snow, “but it should pack down pretty well and be good for sledding.”
TOP: Wenkai Sandfort, 5, left, and his twin sister, Linnea Wang, try to catch snowflakes Saturday afternoon while walking with their parents on 14th Street NW.
LEFT: The flurries pick up in front of the Washington Monument early Saturday evening.