Traffic jams and power outages marked DC area ahead of nightly freeze

Key points:

  • Totals: Record-breaking snowfall was reported Monday, with over a foot of snow reported in southern Virginia and eastern Maryland suburbs.
  • Roads: Chaotic road conditions caused spinouts, jackknifed 18-wheelers and stopped traffic.
  • Power outages: Dominion Energy saw 380,000 customers across Virginia without power. By 5:00 p.m., less than half had power restored to their home.
  • Transit: Metrobus, Fairfax Connector in Virginia and TheBus in Maryland temporarily suspended service.
  • Refreeze: Tons of wet, heavy snow on the roads won’t all be cleared in time by tonight’s refreeze, putting additional stress on work crews.
  • D.C.’s snow emergency has been extended until 4 a.m. Tuesday.
  • Look ahead: See WTOP’s complete list of closures and delays.

The National Weather Service’s snowfall forecast for Monday. (Courtesy NOAA/NWS)

The snow has left the D.C. region, leaving hundreds stuck in hellacious commutes on major and side roads, while thousands of others navigate power outages.

Storm Team4 Meteorologist Matt Ritter confirmed late on Monday that the snow totals beat recorded measures at Washington-Reagan National Airport (DCA) with 6.9 inches of snow. The total far eclipsed the previous record of 2.4 inches set in 1988.

However, as wet surfaces become slick overnight, the state of roadways will become much more important to the D.C. area.

Every jurisdiction has asked drivers to stay off roads as transportation officials work to address oncoming icy conditions.

“I can’t emphasize enough right now that you should stay home. Stay off the roads, allow our crews to work and protect yourself,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

The call was echoed by officials in Maryland and Virginia struggling to address snow-covered roads and ice-covered ramps as the wet roads made way for ice.

“Usually when we get amounts like this, it’s not a heavy and wet snow, but that’s just what we got,” Ritter said. “It’s not going to melt. … All this heavy, wet snow is going to freeze overnight.”

Ritter said temperatures would plunge into the mid-teens overnight and produce the hard refreeze that will fluster road crews through the night and morning.

Snowfall rates came in strong in the early and midmorning hours, dumping between 1 to 3 inches per hour, Storm Team4 meteorologist Mike Stinneford told WTOP.

This led to roughly a foot of snow accumulating in Virginia near Stafford and Prince William counties as well as the city of Fredericksburg.

To the east in Maryland, parts of Charles, Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, including those right along the D.C. border, have also received close to a foot of snow.



Winter weather warnings and advisories as of Monday morning. (Courtesy NOAA/NWS)


Mass transit and traffic

'What was slush is turning icy': WTOP's Neal Augenstein reports from Northern Virginia

Spinouts, downed trees and stopped traffic were all over area roads as commuters drove Monday.

Headlining drivers’ frustrations — the problem on Interstate 95 south near the Centerport Parkway in Stafford.

“It has been a slog. It’s been more than that. It’s been an excruciating ordeal for many people in Northern Virginia between Quantico and Thornburg on Interstate 95,” WTOP Traffic Reporter Dave Dildine said.

WTOP’s Traffic Reporter Reada Kessler reported that six tractor-trailers crashed on that strip, which prevented movement since about 6 a.m.

Dildine said that had been the case throughout the afternoon and into the evening.

But Dildine did say that the Virginia Department of Transportation has deployed resources to make a lane passable. They’ll have to work around the numerous cars, trucks and SUVs that have been stalled and crashed near Stafford.

Little movement can also be felt on many exits around the area. That’s been the case on Interstate 495’s local and through lanes right outside National Harbor and extending onto the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and into Northern Virginia.

It started when drivers had been stuck since the midmorning hours because cars couldn’t climb the hill to Route 210. Finally, around 4:15 p.m., road crews could unearth one lane for people to travel on, and traffic has been crawling since then.

But it’s an ugly scene that will only get worse once temperatures dip well below freezing by nightfall.

“This is going to be a monumental mess,” WTOP’s Kyle Cooper said live from the scene. “It’s almost impassable. Right now, I’m sliding all over the place [and] I have a big four-wheel drive.”

Drivers in Southern Maryland reported more aggravating delays, with plenty of side roads and streets struggling with the remnants of this morning’s snowstorm. Check out WTOP’s Traffic Center for the latest.

WTOP reporters detailed their experiences with the treacherous weather starting the new year.

National Security Correspondent JJ Green was out on the streets earlier Monday and said visibility is about three or four car lengths ahead of him.

During anchor Dimitri Sotis‘ commute to Northwest D.C. from Virginia around 11 a.m., he noticed multiple cars stuck on the side of the road, including a U.S. Postal Service truck, a FedEx van and MetroBus near the intersection of Wisconsin and Massachusetts avenues in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Kristi King talked to one traveler in the Fairfax County section of Alexandria, Virginia. They told her there were multiple downed trees on the George Washington Memorial Parkway before plows could clear them.

Megan Cloherty struggled with clearing the wet, heavy snow off her car in Silver Spring. She even got a word from her neighbor, who said they had a hard time getting the frozen bits off their windows.

“I didn’t see a single tire track; didn’t see a single person driving,” WTOP’s Thomas Robertson reported from the West Falls Church Metro Station in Virginia. “Definitely dangerous conditions out here as you can’t see a hint of anybody that was driving through those neighborhood roads.”

Stuck at the airport

While flights out of both Reagan National Airport in Virginia and BWI Marshall Airport in Maryland resumed after being grounded during the late morning and early afternoon, one passenger couldn’t wait.

“My daughter is having surgery tomorrow, and I need to be there,” said Tammy Mangan from Bethesda, Maryland.

Mangan’s 9:30 a.m. flight out of Reagan National to Hartford, Connecticut, had been moved back before she even got to the airport. And then the 10:30 a.m. departure was also delayed due to weather.

“Every hour or so, they just pushed back your delay and pushed back your delay.”

When she was told that the flight might get in by midnight, she started looking for flights out of Dulles International Airport in Loudoun County, Virginia.

But Mangan said part of the problem was that the airlines were overwhelmed with people trying to find flights.

“I am not angry with her, but they only have one person working here. One person in this whole terminal working on fixing flights for people,” Mangan told WTOP.

Before the storm

Temperatures plummeted overnight from their unseasonably high numbers during the day on Sunday, causing slush on streets to freeze as the snowfall grew heavier.

“The commute around the top side of the Beltway was actually faster this morning, but that’s just because there are a lot less cars than usual,” said WTOP’s John Domen, headed onto Connecticut Avenue in Maryland’s Chevy Chase. “On the other hand, you’re starting to see snow stick to the roads … it’s really starting to glaze over now.”

The weather forced multiple bus systems to suspend service, with Metrobus, TheBus in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and the Fairfax Connector all keeping their vehicles parked due to the weather.

“All buses currently in operation with customers will operate to the end of the line to complete their routes if safe to do so. All other buses will hold at stops until roads are passable and safe to resume service,” Metro said.

“Heavy snow continues to fall throughout the region, and travel is strongly discouraged unless absolutely necessary. As crews work to clear roads, Metro will continue to monitor road conditions to determine when it is safe to resume service. As an alternative, customers who must travel should consider using Metrorail service, which continues to operate on a normal schedule with trains every 12-24 minutes.”

Virginia Railway Express trains operated on an S schedule. Maryland’s MARC commuter trains ran under an enhanced R timetable. MTA Express BusLink routes, along with LocalLink routes 38, 57 and 92 did not operate.

Response across the region

Keeping hopeful drivers at home and off the road has been the main message from leaders throughout the national capital area.

“The roads right now are very slick in some places hard to pass, and we need our crews to be able to work to get to those roads, so please stay off of the roads,” D.C.’s Mayor Bowser said.

Bowser extended the District’s snow emergency until Tuesday at 4 a.m. due to the weather.

Charlie Gischlar with the Maryland State Highway Administration told WTOP that, “What we really want people to do is ride this storm at home. Let us get out and unimpeded to clear the roadways of the storm is expected to exit the state from west to east that’s going to occur and also some colder air.”

Virginia State Police said the majority of car crashes have involved only damage to vehicles, and first responders reported no fatalities.

Transportation officials in Maryland and the District spent the overnight hours prepping their plows and salt supplies — but staffing shortages due to surging coronavirus cases could spell a slower rollout than usual.

Current estimates are that Montgomery County’s plow operators are down by 25% to 30%, but the transportation department does not anticipate issues clearing major streets. The District is about 40 drivers short but has contractors to backfill those positions, said Chris Geldart, D.C.’s deputy mayor for public safety.

D.C.’s snow emergency allowed it to deploy a team of more than 100 snowplows. The city also started treating roads with salt.

Ellen Kamilakis, a spokeswoman with the Virginia Department of Transportation, said crews also started mobilizing overnight and dropped blades down once there are 2 inches on the ground.

“Right now, we have about 2,300 trucks that are mobilized, augmenting to about 2,700 trucks when we bring in the neighborhood fleets,” Kamilakis told WTOP, adding that the agency was not experiencing staffing issues like other jurisdictions.

Power outages remain a problem across the WTOP listening area.

“We do expect to see some outages if branches and power lines get very heavy,” said Dominion Energy spokeswoman Peggy Fox. “Snow and freezing rain can accumulate on branches, and in this area, we had those cicadas back in May, which may have damaged some.”

Snow totals

The storm moved on, but the snow sure hasn’t.

The weather pattern’s southwest-to-northeast trajectory concentrated precipitation in the southern tip of the D.C. region, such as over a foot on the ground in Virginia’s Stafford County and near Fredericksburg city, and close to a foot in Prince William County.

Across the Potomac in eastern and southern Maryland, Anne Arundel, Calvert and Charles counties have received nearly a foot of snow, as has the Prince George’s County town of Capitol Heights.

Closer to D.C., Annandale in Fairfax County, Virginia, watched over 10 inches of snowfall, with nearby Alexandria city and segments of Arlington County seeing similar numbers.

Somerset in Montgomery County, Maryland, has seen almost 9 inches of snow. Parts of Howard County and Baltimore County were a bit tamer with around 7 and 8 inches, respectively.

Listeners to the outside of the immediate D.C. area have seen a much different picture when looking out their windows. Accumulations were modest in Virginia’s Loudoun County and Maryland’s St. Mary’s County at 6 inches, with the latter state’s Frederick and Carroll counties getting less than an inch.


Forecast:

Monday night: Clear with winds diminishing. Frigid. Lows in the mid teens to near 20.

Tuesday: Sunny. Highs in the upper 30s to low 40s.

Wednesday: Becoming cloudy. Highs in the mid to upper 40s.

Thursday: Mostly cloudy. Highs in the low to mid-40s.


Current conditions:


Power outages:

WTOP’s Valerie Bonk and Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

Ivy Lyons

Ivy Lyons is a digital journalist for WTOP.com. Since 2018, they have worked on Capitol Hill, at NBC News in Washington, and with WJLA in Washington.

Matthew Delaney

Matt Delaney is a digital web writer/editor who joined WTOP in 2020.

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital reporter and editor in June 2018. He is a writer and photojournalist focusing on politics, political activism and national affairs, with recent multimedia contributions to Reuters, MSNBC and PBS.

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A winter wonderland in the D.C. area.

St. Anselms Abbey DC snow.

St. Anselms Abbey DC snow.

A beautiful snow covered puppy enjoying the winter weather.

This is Mason Flaherty enjoying sledding in the snow.

From the Widewater area of North Stafford.

A snowy start to the new year here at the White House. (Courtesy of the White House)

A sunset view of snow and waterways in the region. (WTOP/Kristi King)

Winter storm clouds moving through Reston, Virginia. (WTOP/Will Vitka)

The Lincoln Memorial stands on the opposite end of the reflecting pool in this snowy scene.

A nice white coat covers the World War II memorial on the National Mall.

A few residents make use of the thick snow to assemble a snow man on the National Mall.

The Washington Monument looks down on the snow-covered ground at its base.

Snow coats Northwest D.C. (WTOP/Rick Massimo)

Snow coats Northwest D.C. (WTOP/Rick Massimo)

Snow lines the streets in Bethesda, Maryland. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)

Snow blankets Chevy Chase, Maryland. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)

Snow and ice drape the trees in Prince George’s County, Maryland. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)

The U.S. Capitol is shrouded in snow Monday. (WTOP/Zeke Hartner)

The Capitol gets a dose of snow.

Chevy Chase in the snow. (WTOP/Jacob Kerr)

Mile 1 on Route 5. “Stay home.” (Courtesy Marcel Westney)

The roads in Rockville, Maryland, have seen their share of snow. (WTOP/Craig Schwalb)

Dogs still have to have their walks, even on snow days. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

A plow travels along Wisconsin Avenue on Monday morning.

Heading out on the snowy sidewalks in Northwest D.C.

A fox plays with a dog toy during snowfall in McLean, Virginia. (Courtesy Kathleen Kline Moore)

In Waldorf, Maryland, a freshly plowed parking lot is already getting recovered in snow. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)

polar bear and penguin inflatables
Snow made a winter wonderland for some holiday inflatables that are still up in Alexandria, Virginia, on Jan. 3. (Courtesy Ed Kelleher)

Southeast D.C. is getting its fair share of snow. (WTOP/Sarah Beth Hensley)

Southeast D.C. is getting its fair share of snow. (WTOP/Sarah Beth Hensley)

There’s a soccer field somewhere behind the trees in Reston, Virginia, where the snow gets heavier and heavier. (WTOP/Will Vitka)

Heavy snow, low visibility on Route 15 in Prince William County in Virginia, near Haymarket. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

Route 15 approaches white-out conditions in Virginia’s Prince William County. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

The season’s first snowfall is making itself known in Annapolis, Maryland. (WTOP/Chris Roth)

Snow piles up on the road on U.S. 301 in Brandywine. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)

Snow starts to pile up in southern Prince George’s County, Maryland. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)

A plow gets ready in Bowie, Maryland. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)

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polar bear and penguin inflatables

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