(AP Photo/J. David Ake)
Pennsylvania Avenue looking toward the U.S. Capitol in Washington is virtually empty early in the morning, Friday, Jan. 22, 2016 as the Nation's Capital hunkers down in preparation for a major snow storm expected to begin later in the day. The Federal Government will close all of their offices in the area at noon.
Metro is canceling all service on its rail, bus, and paratransit lines through Sunday as a powerful snowstorm bears down on the East Coast, the first system-wide shutdown since Superstorm Sandy in Oct. 2012.
Only bus routes along major corridors were operating by Friday morning, and the last buses and MetroAccess vans will leave the roads between 5 and 6 p.m. The rail system is expected to remain open until 11 p.m. Metro leaders were not ready to promise that the system would re-open Monday morning, pending the outcome of an expected blizzard that could dump two feet of snow on the nation’s capital region.
“We cannot risk putting our customers out there and leaving them stranded,” Metro general manager Paul Wiedefeld at a news conference at WMATA headquarters.
The rail system’s tunnels will be used to store most of Metro’s 1,150 railcars. Even providing train service underground where the third rail would be sheltered from the impact of the snow and wind would be too risky, said Wiedefeld, pointing to the possibility that disruptions to Metro’s commercial power supply (from either Pepco or Dominion Virginia) would strand trains.
“With the blizzard, with the high winds, there is a concern of power loss, and we would not want to have power loss in the underground tunnels where we are using our resources and also other emergency medical resources to come down into tunnels,” he said.
When asked whether the transit authority considered that some people were relying on the subway system to get to work this weekend (if their businesses even attempt to open), Wiedefeld said the risks were too great.
“If we get people out there and we leave them stranded, I think that is the worst option,” Wiedefeld said. “Across the board, you are seeing all the jurisdictions recommending people not travel.”
D.C. Circulator buses will also cease all routes at 5 p.m. Friday.
Few travel options
With Metro out of the picture, driving does not appear to be a practical alternative. In fact, highway agencies are asking motorists to stay off the roads so plow trucks can make their passes.
“We want everyone to have everything that they need to have done by Friday at lunch time, no later than that,” said David Buck with the Maryland State Highway Administration. “Our crews will be fully loaded and ready to go at least an hour or two in advance of the storm.”
In Virginia, officials relayed the same message. “This is going to be a very challenging storm because the forecast calls for two to three inches an hour,” said Tamara Rollison at the Virginia Department of Transportation.
There’s no app for a blizzard
Taxicabs or popular personal transport apps may not be much help, either. For starters, any vehicular travel may be impossible during the height of the storm. If you spot a cab in the District, a $15 “snow emergency” fee will be tacked onto the fare.
The car sharing service Car2Go suspended operations through the weekend. Because states of emergency have been declared in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, Uber says it will cap its infamous surge pricing at an undisclosed level, and its chief ride-hailing rival Lyft says it will not engage in surge pricing at all.
Thousands of flights already were canceled at the three area airports, and some major airlines are grounding operations at least through Saturday.
Memories of 2010
This storm is expected to be the biggest to clobber the Washington region since the blizzard of February 2010, the so-called Snowmageddon.
“When you get that much snow, you can't just plow it,” said Gabe Klein, who was the director of the District Department of Transportation at the time.
If more than 2 feet of snow accumulates, DDOT may have to shift to a snow removal operation because there simply will not be enough room along sidewalks and street corners to pile the snow.
“Putting snow into trucks and then driving it somewhere to get rid of it as we did at the RFK Stadium parking lot in 2010, it's a big operation,” he recalled.
Over the course of 12 days, Klein remembers the Fenty administration held 22 news conferences about the blizzard. It took two weeks to adequately clear the snow from all District streets, with neighborhood side streets the last to be snow-free.
Five months later, the mountain of snow at RFK Stadium had not entirely melted.
“And when we finally got rid of it by heating it up, the parking lot was ruined from the salt,” Klein said.