Prospect of snow puts Washington region on alert

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Local,DC,Maryland,Virginia,Transportation,Rachel Baye

The National Weather Service is predicting snow for the Washington area Thursday, meaning that, of course, commuters are in a panic.

"Close them now! Close them now!" AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson joked about the region's roads. "We don't know how to deal with snow in this town. The thought of snow causes such fear and panic that we should just close the roads now."

But regional transportation agencies have no plans to close roads, and Metro said it plans to operate normally, even though the National Weather Service has said the area is under a "winter storm watch" Thursday.

Transportation officials said they could not pretreat roads Wednesday with a salt solution to prevent them from icing over because of the rain.

However, the Virginia Department of Transportation plans to pretreat interstates and major roads in the morning, and both VDOT and the Maryland State Highway Administration are standing by with one eye on the weather forecast, ready to plow and salt as needed.

"Right now, of course, the focus will be the [Interstate] 95 corridor and south of Prince William County," said VDOT spokeswoman Jennifer McCord.

The agency plans to bring in about 650 crews to manage the roads in the event of snow, she said. Among the areas where crews are being mobilized are Prince William, Loudoun and Fairfax counties. If there is more than 2 inches of snow, the crews will also plow subdivisions.

Central Virginia likely will get hit with the bulk of the storm, said Andy Woodcock, a forecaster with the National Weather Service. While the District could get more than 5 inches -- qualifying for a "watch" -- D.C. is more likely to get between 1 and 3 inches -- an "advisory" -- or even less than an inch.

Farther north in Montgomery County, there is likely to be very little snow, he said.

What makes this storm potentially more problematic, though, is that it is expected to hit just before evening rush hour begins.

"Just the slight amount of snow can cause mayhem and pandemonium on the Washington area's roads," Anderson said. "We don't drive in it very well."

Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman Charlie Gischlar urged drivers to call 511 or check md511.org for updates on road conditions, and McCord reminded drivers to keep speeds low and to avoid driving during the height of the storm if possible.

And no matter how much or how little snow, the D.C. government is prepared, Mayor Vincent Gray said Wednesday. "We are at the ready."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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Rachel Baye

Staff Writer - Education
The Washington Examiner