Washington DC to shut down for blizzard as it takes the greatest hit

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weather watchWe’ve all been hearing about the snow coming this weekend that could slam the East Coast–or miss us all together.

The storm seems to be pushing south, but that’s bad news for Washington, which could see the worst of it. Starting Friday afternoon and into Saturday night, up to 30 inches could fall in the nation’s capital.

“Heavy snow and blowing snow will cause dangerous conditions and will be a threat to life and property,” the National Weather Service warned. “Travel is expected to be severely limited if not impossible during the height of the storm Friday night and Saturday.”

Bowser, Washington’s mayor, has declared a state of emergency, closed schools for Friday and given the OK to move or tow any vehicle found on a snow emergency route.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced the Metrorail system would be closed starting at 11 p.m. Friday, then all day Saturday and Sunday. The Metrobus and MetroAccess services will close at 5 and 6 p.m. on Friday.

“This is not a storm that anyone should take lightly, and I would urge all residents to plan to get to a safe place before the storm arrives Friday afternoon,” said Metro general manager and CEO, Paul Wiedefeld. “The actions we are taking today are all in the interest of our customers’ and employees’ safety, and will help us return to service once the storm passes and the snow is cleared.”

Also, American Airlines said it was canceling all flights in the three Washington and Baltimore area airports on Saturday, and many flights would be canceled starting Friday afternoon.

All major airlines have issued waivers for travel over the weekend, allowing passengers to rebook onto earlier or later flights to avoid the storms without any charge.

Washington’s opening act

A relatively light dusting left the Washington metro area a slippery mess along mostly untreated roads Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, wreaking havoc on the evening and morning commutes.

Commutes turned into hours-long affairs. Many drivers didn’t get home until well after midnight. And Thursday morning’s drive was similarly frustrating, as some icy spots lingered, and commuters left early to allow plenty of time for the ride in.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser asked everyone to stay off the roads so crews could treat them. She apologized on Thursday for the city’s “inadequate response.”

“We believe that we did not provide adequate resources at a time when it could (have made) a difference in last evening’s commute,” she told reporters. “We should have been out with more resources.”

Even the commander in chief had to reckon with the wintry mix. Video shows President Barack Obama’s motorcade using hazard lights Wednesday as it made its slippery way from Joint Base Andrews to the White House. Obama was unable to fly on Marine One because of the weather.

Virginia State Police untangled 767 accidents and responded to 392 calls for disabled vehicles Wednesday night and early Thursday. And north of Washington in Beltsville, Maryland, a man walking along U.S. Route 1 in treacherous conditions died after a snowplow hit him, said Maryland State Police Sgt. Christopher Hohenstein.

So what is planned for DC?

Strong gusts, combined with accumulating snow or ice, could knock out power to many amid subfreezing temperatures — a prospect that Washington’s mayor called “my biggest concern.”

Nearly 2 feet of snow fell in February 2010’s “Snowmageddon” storm, which cut power to hundreds of thousands in the region.

For the weekend storm to be of historic proportions, snow accumulations in Washington would have to top 28 inches. That would exceed the calamitous “Knickerbocker Storm” of 1922, which dumped 28 inches and killed nearly 100 people when the roof of a theater by that name collapsed under the weight of snow.

As of midday Thursday, the greater Washington metro area — from Fredericksburg, Virginia, northward, incorporating all of Maryland — was under a blizzard warning.

Residents aren’t taking any chances either, clearing beer, bread and milk from grocery store shelves ahead of the storm.

Heaters, shovels and sleds sold at a frenzied pace at Strosniders Hardware in Silver Spring, Maryland. Ice melt chemical? Gone, too.

“They know (the storm is) coming,” manager Roy Washington told CNN affiliate WJLA-TV. “They hear the forecast, and they want to be prepared for it.”

Garth Brooks’ concerts have been postponed Friday and Saturday at Baltimore’s Royal Farms Arena “for the safety of all fans and all personnel involved.” The postponement is among dozens of cancellations of shows, classes and more because of the storm.

And what about the rest of the Northeast?

In Connecticut, we’re looking at a coating to 2 inches for the northern part of the state, and about 2 to 5 inches along the shoreline and in Fairfield, New Haven and New London counties.Connecticut snow prediction

Washington appears to be in the storm’s bull’s-eye, but most of the Mid-Atlantic states — and a few points west — will also take a hit. There’s more uncertainty for Philadelphia and New York, though the latter city’s mayor has ordered some 4,800 sanitation workers charged with clearing streets to go on to 12-hour shifts Friday.

The forecast there calls for snow to start falling overnight Friday, with 7 to 15 inches possible by the end of the weekend, though the latest forecasts seem to be lowering the predicted totals.

“The men and women of the Sanitation Department and all our agencies are getting ready right now,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “We’re bracing for the first big storm of the winter.”

About 75 million people are in the storm’s path, with nearly 30 million under blizzard watches or warnings. Severe weather, including tornadoes, could hit Gulf states on Thursday, and some of the country’s most populous cities could see blizzard-like conditions.

There could be winds as strong as 60 mph, coastal storm surges and flooding on top of whatever precipitation will fall. And it could be a lot.

“It’s not out of the question that some localized areas receive over 2 feet of fresh snow,” CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said.

All flights out of Charlotte, North Carolina were canceled for Friday, but would resume Saturday. In New York, American Airlines canceled all flights at LaGuardia, JFK and Newark starting Saturday afternoon, and travel is set to resume Sunday.

All major airlines have issued waivers for travel over the weekend, allowing passengers to rebook onto earlier or later flights to avoid the storms without any charge.

States from Oklahoma east to the Atlantic Coast hunkered down Thursday as ice and snow rolled through. Ward warned that 1 to 2 feet of snow could fall “from eastern Kentucky across West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and into southern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.”

Gov. Tom Wolfe has declared a state of emergency in Pennsylvania. “We cannot control the weather, but we can all be prepared for whatever the weather brings us,” he told reporters Thursday. Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina have made similar declarations.

For many, it’s still up in the air what will fall: Little Rock, Arkansas, for instance could see rain, sleet and even snow thunder overnight in addition to heavy snow, according to the National Weather Service.

Tennessee got hit early, with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office reporting the death of a 19-year-old man after his car slid off the road Wednesday “due to weather and speeding.” North Carolina saw two deaths late Wednesday in crashes along snow-covered roads.

Both states are expecting more bad weather — with several inches of snow and sleet likely in Knoxville, Tennessee, significant icing in Charlotte, North Carolina, and up to 8 inches of snow in Asheville, North Carolina.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said his state is doing “everything we can” to get public safety personnel ready in case the worse-case scenarios come true. Several schools, churches and courts around North Carolina had been ordered closed Friday, according to CNN affiliate WRAL-TV.

“Our goal with this potential winter storm … is to be overprepared and hopefully underwhelmed,” McCrory said.

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