Severe cold grips D.C. region; snow likely on the way

WASHINGTON — The D.C. region woke up to bitterly cold temperatures Tuesday with wind chills hovering around zero — the coldest weather of the season so far.

Some area school systems announced delays, cracked rails triggered delays for Metro riders and firefighters in Prince George’s County battled a fatal house fire amid the bone-chilling cold. The District has opened warming centers and is offering free rides to emergency shelters or warming stations for the homeless.

Wind gusts ranged from 20 to 30 mph Tuesday morning helping to make temperatures feel as cold as -6 degrees in Martinsburg with the wind chill. But closer to D.C. the wind chills hovered just 1 degree above zero. Air temperatures were in the low teens early Tuesday morning, says Storm Team 4 meteorologist Lauryn Ricketts.

Temperatures rose to the mid 20s by lunchtime but the wind will stick around keeping the wind chill in the single digits to the teens for most of the day.

Fauquier, Loudoun, Prince William and Rappahannock county public schools all announced two-hour delays due to the forecast temperatures.

The weather took a toll on Metro as well. The Orange and Silver lines single-tracked for more than an hour during the height of the morning rush due to cracked rails at East Falls Church and between East Falls Church and Ballston stations. Single-tracking ended shortly before 9 a.m.

In addition to shivering riders waiting at aboveground stations, the hiccup ensnared Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld and Congressman Gerry Connolly who rode the Orange Line together.

And Prince George’s County reported that firefighters were wearing icicles that formed as they battled and early morning blaze in Chillum that killed four people.

Because of the dangerously cold temperatures, the District has enacted its Cold Emergency Plan. Emergency shelters will be open, warming stations will be made available at public buildings, and free transportation will be available for take the city’s homeless to emergency shelters or warming sites, according to the D.C. Department of Human Services.

See someone who needs shelter or warm clothes? Here are several numbers to call to get them some help:

  • D.C.: 1-800-535-7252 or 311
  • Arlington County: 703-527-4077
  • Prince George’s County: 888-731-0999
  • Maryland Crisis Hotline: 301-662-2255
  • Montgomery County: 240-777-4000
  • Fairfax County: 703-691-2131 (nonemergency police number)

Looking ahead

Temperatures will warm somewhat on Wednesday into the low to mid 30s. Some light snow showers or flurries are forecast for the evening commute Wednesday.

Meanwhile a potentially crippling winter storm is heading eastward and could hit the Mid-Atlantic sometime Friday. The storm could bring substantial precipitation, which could come in the form of snow or rain but wet, heavy snow is the more likely outcome, Ricketts says.

Temperatures are forecast to be in the low to mid 30s on both Friday and Saturday.

She says it is too early to make specific predictions about how much snow could fall, but she expects to have a more detailed forecast Wednesday.

The precipitation is expected to begin falling on Friday morning and continue through Saturday, Ricketts says. The precise timing and temperatures will determine which areas see rain, which receive snow, and which see a mix.

“It could be a good amount of all three,” Ricketts says. But it’s too early to tell exactly where the storm will go, and where the rain/snow line will lie. “Just 50 miles … could really determine what we get.”

D.C. and points to the north and west could see what Ricketts describes as a disruptive snowfall, while Southern Maryland, Fredericksburg could see less snow or even a wintry mix.

Predicting the exact amount of snow this far out is a dangerous idea, she says, recalling the forecasts related to Hurricane Joaquin, during which “we were supposed to get blasted with a whole bunch of rain, and we got sprinkles.”

Still, she says, “I’ve already canceled my plans” for Friday and Saturday.

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