WASHINGTON -- A winter storm that roiled the Midwest prepared to turn its might toward the mid-Atlantic area, including the nation’s capital, where power outages were a threat in a region that takes power very seriously.
The storm, which dropped as much as 10 inches of snow in Chicago and surrounding states, was expected to drop six inches or more to parts of the Washington area on Wednesday then move northward to regions that have just recovered from large storms.
“The strong winter storm that has been affecting the Midwest and Ohio Valley turns its sights on the Mid-Atlantic on Wednesday, where it is expected to bring 6-10 inches of snow to areas including Washington, D.C. The storm will move up the coast Wednesday evening into early Friday, generally bringing as much as 2-8 inches of snow from the New York City metro area into New England,” the National Weather Service warned.
But like the budget sequester -- the across-the-board $85 billion in budget cuts that politically deadlocked Washington -- the storm, already being dubbed “snowquester,” got off to a slow start, and its impact remained spotty. In the District itself, the precipitation on Wednesday was mainly rain, with the higher elevations getting a dusting of snow that was having a hard time sticking.
As a precaution, the federal government closed its offices, giving many non-emergency workers an excused absence. Congress was in session with possible important votes pending, but some hearings were canceled including one before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology which put off its scheduled proceedings on “Threats From Space: A Review of U.S. Government Efforts to Track and Mitigate Asteroids and Meteors, Part 1.”
The White House press briefing was also canceled.
But there were more serious effects. In Virginia, the snows have already begun, and Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency."Over 12 inches of snow already has been reported in several locations along the northern Interstate 81 corridor," McDonnell said in his declaration. "Approximately 170,000 customers are currently without power in Virginia, and that number will likely increase as the storm continues to affect Virginia and winds increase."
“Virginia is facing a significant snow event over much of the state, especially in our northwestern and western parts,” spokesman Jeff Caldwell told the Los Angles Times in an email. “Crews with the Virginia State Police and Virginia Department of Transportation have been working since the storm began to assist motorists and clear roads. The Winchester area and the northern Shenandoah Valley have seen significant snowfall throughout the day thus far.
“Areas near Richmond received a rain/snow mix that has now turned to snow and is beginning to accumulate in earnest. The eastern areas of the state are seeing just rain at this point,'' he said.
In Maryland, officials reported about 600 electrical outages as the weather worsened. By Wednesday morning, seven inches of snow had fallen in Keysers Ridge in the western Maryland mountains and two to three inches in the central part of the state. More snow was expected, and officials were urging people to stay home to keep roads clear for emergency vehicles.
The storm is carrying a fierce pedigree, having dropped 10 inches in Chicago on Tuesday. Schools were closed in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.
According to the website, FlightAware.com, which monitors air traffic, the storm caused more than 3,600 flight cancellations this week. On Monday, 296 flights were canceled and 1,508 flights were dropped on Tuesday, with most of the cancellations at Chicago’s O'Hare.
The website said that 1,737 flights were canceled on Wednesday and that the airport most affected was Reagan National (617), closely followed by Washington Dulles (515).
At least one traffic death was reported on a snow-covered road in Wisconsin. A second person in that accident was reported as missing.
Power outages remained a concern as the expected wet snow could bring down power lines. Both Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. and Pepco in the Washington area said they would have extra line crews available.
Dominion Virginia Power had also alerted out-of-state utilities it might require assistance if the storm lived up to its billing.