Winter Snowstorm Pummels Midwest, Heads Toward D.C.

A flight information screen displays of cancellation for flights at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. A late-winter storm barreled through the Midwest, snarling air travel in and out of Chicago, and it will soon take aim at busy airports around Washington, D.C.
Associated Press + More

By DAVID DISHNEAU, Associated Press

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — After pummeling the nation's midsection with heavy snow, a late-winter storm made its way Wednesday to the nation's capital, where residents braced for the possibility of power outages.

As the storm closed in, the federal government said its offices in the Washington, D.C., area would be closed Wednesday. Many major school systems around Washington and Baltimore announced pre-emptive closures as well.

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By early Wednesday, wet snow was falling in the Washington area. It was accumulating on the grass in some areas, but not on the streets as temperatures hovered above freezing. The worst of the storm was expected to arrive by midday.

The storm brought around 10 inches of snow to weather-hardened Chicago by late Tuesday, when snow was also starting to come down in parts of Virginia. Schools were closed in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, and more than 1,100 flights were cancelled at Chicago's two major airports, prompting delays and closures at others.

Airlines along the storm's projected path cut flights too, including hundreds more Wednesday at Dulles and Reagan National airports in the Washington area, according to FlightAware.com.

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While there were no initial reports of major accidents in the Chicago area, a semi-trailer slid off a snow-covered interstate in western Wisconsin, killing one person. The search for a second person, believed to be a passenger, was suspended overnight.

As the storm pushed toward the Mid-Atlantic states, forecasters were predicting snow accumulations of 3 to 7 inches in the Washington area and up to 16 inches in the western Maryland mountains by Wednesday night. Tidal flooding was possible along the Delaware coast, the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay and the lower Potomac River.

Still recovering from Superstorm Sandy, the Jersey Shore was preparing for another possible hit Wednesday and Thursday. The storm should bring rain and snow, but one of the biggest problems could be flooding in areas where dunes were washed away and many damaged homes still sit open and exposed. Those areas could get 2 to 4 inches of snow, with Monmouth and some inland counties possibly getting as much as 6 inches.

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An upper-level, low-pressure system coming in from the northwest and a surface low sweeping up from Kentucky were expected to converge along the Virginia-West Virginia line, bringing heavy precipitation, cold temperatures and winds gusting up to 35 mph.

"Whenever you're talking about that much heavy, wet snow and those winds of 20-30 mph with some higher gusts, there's a concern for numerous power outages," said National Weather Service meteorologist Jared Klein in Sterling, Va.

Both Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and Pepco in the Washington area said they would have extra line crews available.

The Maryland State Highway Administration pre-positioned tow trucks at rest stops and park-and-ride lots, and told its tree-trimmers to get ready.

"We certainly anticipate some signal outages. We certainly anticipate some trees down, which can cause power outages," spokesman David Buck said.

The closure of many schools and offices was expected to alleviate snarled traffic in the District of Columbia. The Metro transit system was operating normal train service but said some bus routes would be suspended. Subway workers were focused on clearing snow from tracks, platforms and parking lots.

The Maryland Transit Administration was monitoring overhead power lines for snow and ice accumulation.

In Virginia, the storm was expected to dip along the coast and dump moisture-laden snow inland totaling a foot in the Blue Ridge Mountains and up to 21 inches in higher elevations.

Dominion Virginia Power had also alerted out-of-state utilities it might require assistance if the storm lived up to its billing.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell directed executive branch agencies to allow eligible nonessential employees to work remotely or to "be generous" in approving leave requests for workers who live in regions under a storm watch or warning.