From the ABC 7 Weather team

Correction:

As noted elsewhere, Elkins is in West Virginia, not Virginia.

D.C. snow 2011: Updates from the storm

January 26, 2011 - 09:30 PM
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Pedestrians navigate a snow-covered sidewalk in Arlington.40 Photos
Pedestrians navigate a snow-covered sidewalk in Arlington. (Photo: TBD/TBD | Date: Jan. 26, 2011)

RECAP: Snow fell. People had a long, difficult drive home. One person had a baby on the road. Many people are without power. Many more are just fine. And now it is time to ask: ARE WE FLINTY YET? Also: Follow updates on today's commute/misery/happiness here.

Andrew Beaujon had an easy drive from the City of Alexandria to Arlington's Rosslyn neighborhood this morning. The snow on our 2003 Toyota Matrix was soft and quickly removed, the parking spot was easily shoveled out, and the drive in (via Commonwealth Avenue>E. Glebe Road>Route 1 North>Route 110>Wilson Boulevard) was delightfully boring.

TBD will be aggressively reporting on the snow's aftermath all day here.

12:04: The snow appears to have stopped in some areas. It looks like we're through the first big snowstorm of the year.

11:36: The D.C. government is closed Thursday, except for essential personnel. The D.C. public schools are also closed.

9:52: Our TBD staff will be updating this post until midnight, but that's it for me. Final snow accumulation totals tomorrow. Enjoy this gallery of photos you guys sent in: gorgeous stuff.

9:47: The system is really breaking up now to our west, and it should be winding down inside the Beltway in half an hour. Time to be reflective.

The top story tomorrow will obviously be the crackling beast of a storm that ran wild through our land, leaving a trail of snow behind that approached 10 inches in parts. But here’s what I’m guessing will share the spotlight: The evening commute’s bottomless well of misery.

The traffic maps of Wednesday will be studied for years by radio traffic reporters. Why did so many people take to the roads at the same time a major storm, one predicted by every meteorologist in town, was set to hit D.C.? The snow was driving so hard that Doug Hill, our chief meteorologist, said he saw people just getting out of their cars on 395 and just walking away. We’ve had reports of people being stuck in traffic for 5 hours with no end in sight.

Was it because the government didn’t give enough time for its workers to take off early? Was the plowing not up to par? Did the speed of the snowfall catch us off guard? Whatever the reason, the collective bile of our commuter class will take a long time to settle.

At least some people are finding humor in the situation. Reading this log of a guy trying for the last 3 hours to drive from Crystal City to Bethesda sure is good bedtime reading.

9:27: WAMU 88.5 goes silent in D.C.

9:20: For some, snowfall is a time to wax existential. TBD reporter Jenny Rogers sends in this sad update walking home tonight: "This update is not meteorological but personal. Perhaps you will have a use for it."

"A 12-year-old boy threw a snowball at me outside of the Potomac Avenue Harris Teeter at 7 p.m. The attack was a physical one, an icy slap to the cheek, but also metaphorical, as it made me feel really old. I am no longer someone who throws snowballs, but someone whom children throw snowballs at. A sad thought to ponder during my slushy shuffle home."

8:45: Congratulations if you’re still reading this! It means you have electricity. That's a luxury right now. Reader Sean Wieland just sent this picture in from Northwest D.C., where powerless streets are cast in brown shadow. Pepco estimates that 133,457 people are without power in the city and Montgomery County. Dominion Electric reports that 92,495 homes are dark in Northern Virginia. That number is up from 4,120 around 6 p.m. On the bright side, this is perfect fireplace weather.

power

8:20: Overheard in the office: "Oh rearwheel-drive BMW guy... you're not getting out of here." The snow is thick enough on Rosslyn's streets that people (like this fellow who we see out the window) are having trouble pulling out of parking spaces, instead lodging their cars onto curbs or getting stuck with their hoods pointing 90 degrees into traffic.

Where are the plows, you ask? Give them a break: They're probably out clearing the major roads. Poor visibility no doubt hampers their mission, as does the way this snow is just pouring onto the land. Of course, if the roads aren't clear by tomorrow morning I'll change my kind opinion of them instantly.

If you happen to live in Montgomery County, where 10 inches of accumulation is probable in places, you can follow the progress of the snow plows online. Just go to the country's interactive plow map. 

8:08: I just watched someone trudge along the desolate Rosslyn sidewalk carrying a crockpot. Soup for the snowed-in? There are about 5 inches of accumulation here. If you want to take your own measurement in an urban environment, the sidewalks aren't the best place, with the wind that whips around in building canyons. Find a nice, out-of-the-way surface. We're using some metal supports tucked into the outer recesses of our building. 

7:55: The heaviest snow has entered the Beltway. Dulles and Reagan have shut down their runways to run plows. The back end of the storm is trailing through Winchester to about Charlottesville, with a couple hours of snow left for D.C. It’s trucking along faster than expected but also releasing more snow than expected – wet, clumpy nodules that stick to everything. Cold air is moving in, but the 32-degree temperature is keeping this snow slippery. People in the entranceway of the TBD building are walking through a mortar fire of snow slabs falling off the building’s awning.

Snow totals? The highest report we’ve heard is 9 inches in Loudoun County’s Purcellville. In some of the high spots in Frederick and in places in Montgomery, it’s going to easily be 10 inches. We’re crawling up to the hallowed foot-deep watermark, although nobody in ABC7’s weather center will throw much support behind that possibility. If you’re the gambling type, we’ll wager it’s only a 20 percent chance for 12 inches anywhere in the D.C. region.

7:20: Another round of delays and closings. Schools that will be closed tomorrow: Culpeper, Fairfax, Prince William, Fauquier, Loudoun, Manassas, Page, Rappahannock, Spotsylvania and Stafford. Public schools in D.C. are opening 2 hours late.

In transportation news: Metrobuses are heading back to their shelters at 9:30 p.m. Reagan National has a ground stop on flights while dozers clear the runway. There's no word how long that will take. But the airport says "most flights are canceled."

The heaviest snowband is moving across the D.C. area now. It probably won't clear it until 10 p.m.

7: The rapid-fire way this snow is falling, Bob Ryan says we should probably up the amount of snow accumulation. We're thinking 8 inches right now, with more than that in some spots like Loudon County. The tail end of the storm is still moving west of Culpeper. It should keep coming on strong for another 3 to 4 hours and then be out by 11 p.m.

6:51: The winter storm has now personally inconvenienced our commander-in-chief. According to a report in the Associated Press, President Obama returned to Andrews Air Force Base today from a trip to Wisconsin to find that his helicopter, Marine One, could not take off in the snow. So his motorcade schlepped across town back to the White House, spending an hour in traffic for a trip that usually takes 20 minutes. I’m sure many of you can sympathize.

Want to see how bad the traffic is around D.C.? Our commuter map shows what looks like a big, clogged-up heart, with most of 495 and the major city streets glowing red with gridlock. (Photo by the Associated Press)

obgr

6:20: The snow is falling possibly as fast as 3 inches an hour in Loudon County. At that rate, a 6 foot tall person would be buried in a day. Amazing.

The storm's vertical motion is really beginning to strengthen, creating lightning over D.C. and Baltimore and especially near the ocean coast. It's possible that we could see more than 10 inches in isolated spots of the region. "It's a really unusual storm," says ABC7's Bob Ryan. "We started off the day with a little snow and drizzle. Maybe people thought that nothing's going to happen. But the storm's right on schedule." 

5:55: Various incidents on Metro’s Red Line are causing delays, says D.C. Fire and EMS. There is a report of smoke in a tunnel near the Woodley Park station, and another report of a smoking and arcing insulator with fire along the tracks at Federal Center. Earlier today, Metro said that this morning’s Red Line woes may have been caused by water dripping from the ceiling and sparking when it hit the third rail, said WTOP’s Adam Tuss.

5:30: Many domestic flights at D.C. airports have been cancelled. And the real snow's not even here. The latest accumulation totals for the airports: Reagan 0.6 inches, Dulles 0.9 inches, BWI 2.1 inches.

5:15: Visibility is diminishing outside but the heaviest snow for D.C. has yet to come. You can follow the storm on Doppler radar. Below is a snap of the system from NOAA's Storm Prediction Center. It shows the coastal low tucking back north off the Virginia Capes.

spc

5:05: Snow emergencies! Manassas is declaring one effective at 6 p.m. and Falls Church declared another at 4 p.m. Move those cars out of snow emergency routes or face the wrath of snowplows/tow trucks.

4:57: The storm is quite dynamic and unusual, says Bob Ryan. There's a whirlpool of cold air spinning inside it, with thundersnows being reported throughout the region. Pepco is showing power outtages throughout D.C. One to five thousand people are in the dark in just the eastern fifth of the city. How will this affect Metro? Who knows: The power in our transportation reporter Dave Jamieson's house just went out.

4:50: Meanwhile, up north, Amtrak says it will have service disruptions between Boston and New York tomorrow morning as our winter storm shoots over New England. Delays and cancelations are both on the table. Updates throughout the night on Amtrak's site.

4:25: Look up for our new D.C. accumulation map. It puts us in the 5 to 8 inch range. The snow is getting denser across Loudoun and Fairfax now. In Rosslyn, land of plate-glass buildings, the dazzle effect from the occasional lightning bolt is pretty cool. Temperatures are plummeting and the winds are pushing in hard. Expect the heaviest snow to arrive around 5 and be out a couple hours before midnight.

4:12: This thing's snow drop will be hard to pin to the last second: Bob Ryan says the worst here now looks to come from 5 to 9 p.m. A quicker exit for the storm would mean our accumulations would skew to the lower side of a 5 to 10 inch range. 

4:10: NOAA's Storm Prediction Center estimates that the snow could come down as fast as 1 to 2 inches an hour over the D.C. region! Set up your time-lapse cameras... now.

4:03: Earlier we mentioned that thundersnow had been spotted in Elkins, W.V.* That was at 11:15 a.m. Three hours later, Elkins was blanketed with 6 inches of snow – and it’s still falling there, according to Roxye Marshall, owner of the Cheat River Lodge near Elkins. Here’s an idea of what we could see as the big low-pressure system moves west with its embedded thunderstorms:

“It just changed,” says Marshall. “It was kind of stormy-rainy before. Then it was like, ‘Wait a minute, what’s going on?’ Then, boom! Heavy, heavy snow all the way around.”

“Man the weather is just ripping with snow right now,” she says. “The snow, oh man, it’s just about as messy as it gets. And we get some weird snow here, because of the way patterns come over the mountains. It’s nasty, the lights are flickering because it’s a real heavy snow, which makes it really difficult for road traffic. … We start worrying about roofs collapsing and decks collapsing.”

(When it’s not thundersnowing, Marshall says Cheat River is a wonderful place to visit – a Washingtonian getaway fav, in fact!)

3:32: As you can see from the forecast map above, D.C. is in the line for 6 to 10 inches of snow as strong bands start to pass over. Our weather guys still think 10 inches is optimistic for D.C. because of the wetness of the snow and some surface warmth. But it will be dramatic, one way or the other. People in Arlington are now reporting seeing lightning in the drizzling wintry mix... which we officially dub, thundersleet.

2:55: We're sensing some anger among afternoon Metro riders who are encountering a flood of government workers taking advantage of their early release. A tweet sampler:

Description of image
Rosslyn was very busy just before 3 p.m.. (Photo: Heather Farrell)

@kimberlyfaye: #WMATA was not at all prepared for this early dismissal, I don't care what they say. 6 car WB Orange Line trains nearly 10 mins apart. #fail

@Lega_c: Metro Center is PACKED. Did the government get a 2 hour early dismissal or something? #wmata

@boilerette: Blue line to FS so packed can't close door. Offload soon? #wmata

2:45: It's probably time to start warming up the car for the commute home, say our meteorologists. Late afternoon travel will suck. But with the notice transportation departments had about this weather, the roads won't be as bad as they could've been with a sneakier storm. 

2: The Virginia Department of Transportation says it's expecting a "difficult" commute in northern Virginia, and recommends drivers limit their travel after 4 p.m. Two thousand road-treatment trucks are standing at ready. Want to see how gnarly road conditions get? That's what traffic cams are for. 

1:53: And the list goes on: Arlington County government is closing at 5. Prince George's County District Court is closing at 3.Whitman-Walker Clinic, closing at 4. And several more D.C. schools are shutting down early.

1:40: We've started the live chat with Doug Hill, Bob Ryan, et al. After that, if you're looking for some snow fun tonight, the "official" Dupont Circle snowball fight will kick off at 8 p.m. (Providing there's snow, of course. Which we think there will be.)

1:25: TBD colleague Daniel Victor has created a map of stores that are sold out of milk, bread, salt and other staples. Plan your evening hoarding here. (Zoom out a little first.)

12:40: Bursting with storm questions? We will be holding a live chat with ABC7 meteorologists Doug Hill, Bob Ryan, Chris Naille and Alex Liggitt at 1:30 p.m. to discuss the snow, which looks heavier than ever at the last glance. An updated snow accumulation map puts D.C. within the 6 to 10 inch range, though we still see the city on the low side of that scale. 

Certain areas of Montgomery County and toward the Blue Ridge could see 10 inches of snow falling between 5 p.m. and midnight. That's pretty incredible; almost an inch an hour. Bob Ryan says they're in the "bullseye" of this storm, which is now creating thundersnow in Augusta County, Va. "You might want to get home earlier rather than later," says Bob Ryan.

12:14: Got any good weather pictures? Send them over via mynews@tbd.com or as a tip over here. We'll put them in our gallery.  

12:08: D.C. is now under a winter storm warning, as well as Prince George's, Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford counties. The National Weather Service is calling for heavy snow this afternoon and evening with accumulations between 5 to 10 inches. (We still think 6 inches for D.C. looks good.)

11:50: The area's three airports are rejiggering their flight schedules to deal with snow and ice. If you're flying to La Guardia today, there's an average of an hour-long wait. Departures to Philly International is delayed by 2 and a half hours. And Newark flights were put on hold throughout the morning, although the controllers were supposed to start sending planes that way after noon.

11:41: Federal workers, you are hereby liberated. The government joins the rank of institutions closing 2 hours early.

11:25: More schools have announced early closings. In Virginia, Arlington County and Madison County schools are closing 2 hours early; Alexandria elementary schools are closing at 1 p.m. and the city's secondary schools are closing at 2 p.m.; Orange County schools are closing at 1 p.m. In Maryland, Charles and Calvert county schools are closing 2 hours early. D.C. public schools have not announced any closings.

11:15: It's official! Thundersnow has been reported in Elkins, W.V. I'm calling around to get the view from the ground. If you want to know more about this kick-butt weather anomaly, we have a story today about a man who's hunted thundersnow for a decade. His description:

“It’s a great snowstorm, I’ll tell you that. You get your best experience at nighttime simply because you can see the flash. A lot of lightning occurs in the cloud – it’s never the classic cloud-to-ground flash. The sky brightens for a second. … Then thunder ensues in a long, low, grumbly growl, which is frequently mistaken for a snow plow some distance off.”

10:55: We've put up an accumulation map showing what parts of town were whitest this morning. But that's nothing compared to what is on schedule for this afternoon.

The storm will be charging in during the evening commute, and you may need some X-ray specs to see the road.

 

The ABC7 weather team expects there to be a lull in the precipitation around 2 p.m. Then it will come down hard from 5 to 8 p.m. Here's a graphic (I like how it calls our morning snow a "teaser round"):

teaser

 

9:00 a.m.: This morning will be a test of your boots' waterproofing. The ground is a slushy marsh of half-melted snow and rain. Temperatures are a few degrees above freezing, so the wet nastiness will continue for a little more this morning before tapering out.

After that, we're on schedule to see a big system hustle in and lay some serious snow on us toward the afternoon and late evening. It will be the “biggest snow of the season,” says ABC7's Brian van de Graaff. Expect the heaviest waves of snow to occur between 3 p.m. and 11 p.m. (Live radar.)

We're sticking with 4 to 6 inches of snow accumulation for the immediate D.C. area for now. Areas northwest of D.C., like Loudoun County and parts of Montgomery County, could find themselves mired under as much as 10 inches. Areas south and east, not so much – they'll see lots of rain, with maybe 2 to 4 inches of snow.

A winter storm warning for D.C. and its suburbs remains in effect until 4 a.m. Many schools have already closed (see the status of your school/church/government here), and the state of Maryland and various city governments have instituted a “liberal leave” policy. The message: Stay home, because driving is going to be a hardship today. And probably tomorrow, too.

The system that's carrying this powder is a “large comma shield of precipitation” sliding eastward toward Virginia, according to the weather service. Embedded into its western edge are moderate to heavy snowbands. When it gets over the Central Appalachians this afternoon, the system will turn into a dynamo, with the shield growing larger and the forecasted precipitation possibly increasing. We'll be updating on this storm frequently throughout the day; check back soon for more.

Original: Today is the best bet for snow lovers that we’ve had all season.

New model data Tuesday night shifted the heavier bands of snow a little to the west, but kept D.C. within the crosshairs of 6 inches of accumulation. But there’s a cautionary note with that: Conditions on the ground could prevent the powder from stacking up.

How the temperature will affect the snowfall was the big question all through yesterday. It was 51 degrees in Charlottesville; mid-40s in D.C. Those temperatures have given the roads and sidewalks time to warm up. Plus, the surfaces have been pretreated with chemicals. Plus-plus, rain that precedes the snow will wet the pavement, and already wet snow falling on wet surfaces isn’t the greatest recipe for accumulation.

Here’s how we see this storm playing out.

During the morning we’re set to see some rain and wintry mix, thanks to being near a precipitation divide once again. The low-pressure area off the coast is wrapping in warmer ocean air, and another system up north is pushing in cooler air. The differently heated currents will create a line that on Tuesday night appeared like it would cut several miles south of the city, with mix and rain below it and light snow more likely above. In other words, there could be snow falling in the morning, but if there is it won't be the main event.

That would be the big upper-level system moving in from the late afternoon to the late evening. Snow bands could start washing over us as early as 4 p.m., and road conditions look pretty grisly around 6 and 7 p.m. As this system evolves throughout the day we’ll be making updates to this post and on our forecast page, so stick around.

This storm draws no comparisons to the blizzards of last winter, but it’s still a pretty nice system with plenty of promise for wet, packable snow. “If you have the craving to throw a big snowball at anybody, this will be the perfect weather to do it,” says ABC7’s Steve Rudin.

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