Buried by a blizzard that has left hundreds of thousands of homes without electrical power, the nation’s capital was at a near-standstill Saturday.
Pedestrians who braved the pounding of wet snow outnumbered motor vehicles in the streets. As much as 30 inches of snow, which would be a modern-day record, was predicted for Washington, with a blizzard warning in effect until 10 p.m. Parts of Maryland and West Virginia already were buried under more than 20 inches, with forecasters measuring a snowfall of 2 inches per hour Saturday morning. Virginia had declared a state of emergency.
With the region’s airports closed, hundreds of flights were canceled. Trees and power lines were down throughout the region, and Saturday night’s NBA game between the Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks was called off.
On 16th Street Northwest — a vital north-south artery that spans much of the District of Columbia — impassable sidewalks forced people to walk down the middle of the street. Snowplows struggled.
By late morning, drifts had risen as high as 4 feet and the snow was still falling, swirling amid bursts of wind. Visibility was a limited to a few blocks.
And a new concern was developing: underneath the snow, a layer of ice.
Authorities blamed the storm for hundreds of accidents, including a tractor-trailer wreck that killed a father and son who had stopped to help someone in Virginia. Some hospitals asked people with four-wheel-drive vehicles to volunteer to pick up doctors and nurses to take them to work. The Washington Area Metro, a train line that the city and suburbs depend upon for transportation, was closed above ground and bus service was suspended. Amtrak also canceled several of its Northeast Corridor runs.
Washington has gotten more than a foot of snow only 13 times since 1870, according to the National Weather Service, which predicted up to 30 inches Saturday. The record was 28 inches, in January 1922. The biggest snowfall for the Washington-Baltimore area is believed to have been in 1772, before official records were kept, when as much as 3 feet fell, as recorded by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in diaries.