Residents encouraged to stay off roads as snow moves through region -- Gazette.Net


This story was updated at 1:15 p.m. March 6, 2013.

The winter storm moving across the Mid-Atlantic region may not have looked like much early Wednesday morning, but agencies are bracing for the possibility of worsening conditions later in the day.

Many area government offices and schools shut down Wednesday morning in anticipation of the storm.

Kellie Boulware, spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, said the roads were relatively quiet early, although traffic was starting to pick up by about 9 a.m.

“Thankfully, we haven’t seen any major incidents thus far,” she said.

In Montgomery, Frederick and Prince George’s counties, public schools canceled classes as the storm moved into the region. Having schools and many local government agencies closed gave crews more time to get out and do some extra salting, Boulware said.

“I think a lot of folks heeded the warnings from a lot of area agencies ... to stay put,” she said.

Hopefully, she said, many people will stay home as the second wave of storms moves through in the afternoon.

A Winter Storm Warning remains in effect for Prince George’s, Frederick and Montgomery counties until 3 a.m. Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

At mid-day, the storm had not yet affected power in most of Montgomery County. There were a few outages in Silver Spring and about 128 Pepco customers in Chevy Chase without power, but service throughout the rest of the county was holding steady.

As of 1 p.m. Wednesday, eight power outages across Pepco’s coverage area had left about 200 customers without power, spokeswoman Myra Oppel said.

“We have enough crews that they’re dispatching immediately when these (outages) occur,” Oppel said. She did not know how long it would take to restore power.

The snowstorm brought 2 to 4 inches of snow to Frederick County Tuesday night, with an additional 4 to 8 inches expected Wednesday, according to Calvin Meadows, a meteorological technician with the National Weather Service.

Temperatures are expected to stay in the low to mid 30s today, with wind gusts up to 35 miles per hour, according to NWS reports. The snow is expected to taper off before midnight Wednesday, mixing over to rain after 1 a.m. Thursday. Temperatures are expected to be in the mid to low 30s overnight Wednesday.

Service on the Brunswick Line of the MARC train was suspended Wednesday due to the weather conditions and a lack of available crews, according to a Maryland Transit Administration news release. Metrorail had 65,000 riders as of 10 a.m. Wednesday — well below the 268,000 riders at the same time last week, according to a tweet from WMATA.

Gaithersburg Public Works Director Jim Arnoult said he is most worried about slush accumulating on the roads.

“We haven’t been plowing yet, but we are salting,” he said Wednesday morning.

So far, the snow has melted enough that it hasn’t overwhelmed efforts to keep the roads clear. Arnoult said the snow management team is in “full force,” and they have not yet received any requests for additional help from neighboring cities.

Daryl Braithwaite, public works director for Takoma Park, said Wednesday morning that the city had fallen more on the rain side of the storm.

As of about 9:15 a.m., there was “a sheet of slushy mush” that could make sidewalks “a little bit treacherous” for walking, she said. The roads seemed fine for cars, and she hadn’t seen much traffic, Braithwaite said.

The city canceled trash and recycling collection so sanitation drivers would be available to help plow streets, she said.

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue officials have been coordinating closely with utility and road crews, increased staffing, positioned all available equipment and resources around the County to cope with the Snowquester, according to an advisory the department put out this morning. Montgomery County fire officials asked residents to stay make sure their phones and other devices were fully charged, and stay off of the roads as much as possible.

Fire officials had several other storm tips, among them, asking residents to make sure they had emergency preparedness kits ready, to use caution around downed or damaged power lines, to avoid using candles to light houses in the event of power outages, and to only call 911 during emergencies. If you need help but it is not a critical emergency, fire officials reminded residents to call 311 instead.

Fire Chief Richard Bowers is asking residents to help firefighters and clear snow away from fire hydrants, according to the advisory. “The expected snow accumulations combined with the after-effects of plowing roads may result in many fire hydrants partially or completely buried in snow. By keeping fire hydrants clear of snow, residents can help firefighters to easily locate hydrants and access water quickly, preserving valuable time to potentially save lives and structures,” the advisory said.

Additionally, officials warned residents not to overdo it shoveling snow, which can be strenuous and potentially dangerous to your health. Fire officials reminded residents to limit shoveling to only a few minutes at a time, shovel smaller amounts and take frequent breaks.

As of 8 a.m. Wednesday, the call volume for Prince George’s fire and EMS department was below average and “very, very quiet,” said Mark Brady, chief spokesman for the county fire and EMS department. One vehicle collision was reported on the Capital Beltway’s inner loop near Annapolis Road, but there were no injuries, he said.

Emergency operators in Frederick County had not handled many calls early Wednesday morning, said Chip Jewell, head of emergency communications in Frederick County’s Emergency Management Division.

“We’ve had just a normal amount of calls,” he said. “Things may pick up a bit in the afternoon.”

Troopers from the Maryland State Police’s barrack in Frederick had responded to only one minor accident by Wednesday morning, according to barrack commander Lt. Todd May.

State police put a snow emergency plan into effect for the county at 3:40 a.m. Wednesday morning, requiring motorists to only operate vehicles equipped with snow tires or chains, and designating major area roads as snow-emergency routes.

Pepco requested assistance from Alabama and Georgia crews to help with possible power outages as the storm moves through the area, according to a Tuesday news release.

“One of the things we’re looking out for is the possibility, as has been predicted, of heavy, wet snow coupled with winds,” spokesman Dan Riedinger said. “(That) puts more weight on tree limbs, with the wind striking them as well.”

The tree limbs could fall on power lines, he said, leading to power outages.

Todd Myers, spokesman for Potomac Edison, said regular staff crews are patrolling the streets in Frederick County, and additional crews from out-of-state were on standby in case power outages increase.

The county had 19 power outages as of 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, with more expected later in the day, Myers said.

“I do anticipate that there will be [more] outages as the day wears on,” he said. “What we have been seeing is wet heavy snow, and over the course of the day, that can cause the branches to break. You get those conditions, and unfortunately, you are going to have some outages.”

Despite the ugly weather, some stores and restaurants tried to conduct business as usual, although some saw a drop in customers.

Life in downtown Bethesda went on, albeit at a slower pace.

At Kraze Burgers on Elm Street, employee Sean Wood said business was very slow.

“We’ve probably done a third of what we normally do,” Wood said. Still, there were no plans to close early.

The Kensington Town Hall stayed open Wednesday. Sanford Daily, the town manager, said he was taking routine precautions, such as making sure sure the town’s three trucks were full of salt and ready to go.

Capital City Cheesecake in Takoma Park opened its doors to some of its regular customers around 7:30 Wednesday morning and officially opened about an hour later. Co-owner Meaghan Murphy said the cafe and bakery was seeing groups of people who were out and about while the weather still allowed it. Murphy said they will be open “as long as the snow allows us to be open.”

In Rockville, most stores in Town Square and Congressional Plaza were open, although some closed due to weather. Westfield Wheaton and Westfield Montgomery shopping malls were both open, according to posts on Facebook.

Midas, in Gaithersburg was also open. The store had opened at its usual hour, and was seeing less customers because of the nasty weather. “We may be closing early ... we’re just going to play it by ear,” said Shane Ross, a manager.

The Original Pancake House in Bethesda was open, operating on standard business hours.

An employee at the Pancake house said the restaurant had a plan in place to help employees get to work in the snowy weather.

“If they can’t get in I’ll pick them up,” Manager Drew Babich told The Gazette. “They’ve been with me for years.”

Most of his employees had gotten to work without incident he said, but he had brought one server in to work with him and would take another one home when work ended.

It was standard practice for nasty weather events, he said.

“One way or another, I’ll get them home.”

Reporters Elizabeth Waibel, Morgan Young and Daniel J. Gross contributed to this article.