HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — After pummeling the nation’s midsection with heavy snow, a late-winter storm was making its way Wednesday toward the nation’s capital, where residents braced for the possibility of snarled traffic and power outages.
As the storm closed in, the federal government said its offices in the Washington, D.C., area would be closed Wednesday.
The storm had 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 were already cutting flights too, including hundreds more Wednesday, most of them at Dulles and Reagan National airports in the Washington area, according to FlightAware.com.
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. Minor 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.
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.
District of Columbia officials said snowfall could affect both the morning and evening rush hours. The Maryland Transit Administration was monitoring overhead power lines for snow and ice accumulation, and Washington’s Metro subway workers were focused on clearing snow from tracks, platforms and parking lots.
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.
The state’s emergency operations center was to open Wednesday morning, and state transportation officials advised motorists to avoid travel at the height of the storm.
“The snow is going to come down at a very fast rate,” agency spokesman Sandy Myers said. “We just need folks to stay off the roads so the plow drivers can hopefully keep up with the storm.”
The Baltimore-Washington area’s last snowstorm struck Jan. 26, 2011. It hit Washington during the evening rush hour, causing some motorists to be stuck in traffic nearly overnight. It dropped 5 inches on Washington and 7.8 inches on Baltimore, knocked out power to about 320,000 homes and contributed to six deaths.
Since then, the federal government has changed its bad-weather policies to allow workers to leave their offices sooner or to work from home if major storms are expected.
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which sets leave policies for 300,000 federal workers, said non-emergency employees of the federal government would be granted excused absences for Wednesday. The agency was criticized after the 2011 storm for waiting too long to tell workers to go home, leading to gridlock.
Still, some Mid-Atlantic residents were looking forward to the snow. “I love it — I love it when we have snow days,” Baltimore homemaker Mary White said Tuesday afternoon as she hurried to finish errands.
The current storm is part of a system that started in Montana, hit the Dakotas and Minnesota on Monday and then barreled through Wisconsin and Illinois on its way to Washington.