‘Snowquester’ Shuts Down D.C., Snarls Air Travel

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(CNN) — They’re calling it “snowquester.”

A winter storm that set snowfall records in Chicago arrived in the capital region early Wednesday, forcing federal offices in Washington and school districts around the area to close — hence the play on “sequester,” the forced spending cuts making the rounds in government.

snow-dcThe electricity was going out in places, too, thanks to the wet, heavy snow downing trees and power lines.

Nearly 253,000 homes and businesses had no power — most of them in Virginia and West Virginia, but also in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Ohio, according to utilities.

Washington could see a crippling 10 inches of snow, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said.

Snow totals could exceed a foot west of the city, while some places in northern Virginia and West Virginia could see as much as 30 inches, he said.

Air travel will likely be snarled all day. Airlines have canceled more than 1,600 flights, leaving passengers like Alex Thompson, who had hoped to take a flight to San Francisco, with plenty of time on their hands.

Thompson had traveled all the way from Kenya only to find that his next flight was one of hundreds called off until Thursday due to the storm.

With no hotel reservations and nowhere else to go, he said he’d find a place to sack out in the airport and “waste my time until I can get on my flight.”

Capital closings

The storm prompted the federal government to close offices in the nation’s capital, but emergency workers and telecommuters will be expected to be on duty, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

The White House canceled a planned celebration for the Alabama Crimson Tide, college football champions, and Congress called off several hearings.

More than 954,000 students who attend major school districts in Washington, Virginia, Maryland and Ohio will get a day to play in the snow.

But tourism goes on

Not all of Washington was shut down. While the National Zoo closed, the Smithsonian said its museums would be open for visitors.

Washington’s Metrorail system also was running, although some bus service had been disrupted, according to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Travel woes

In addition to air travel, the snow was having predictable results on the roads.

In Virginia, transportation officials reported particularly nasty conditions on many secondary and some primary routes in Amelia, Augusta, Culpepper, Fauquier and Powhatan counties, with deep snow or ice covering the pavement.

In Maryland, the State Highway Administration advised against venturing out despite deceptively clear road conditions early Wednesday, saying the wet, heavy snow would begin to cover roadways in the afternoon.

The snow is likely to drop trees and power lines onto roads, adding to the hazards, the agency said.

About 2,000 state crews were on Maryland roads as of Wednesday morning, the agency said.

Amtrak shut down some trains in Washington, Virginia, West Virginia and New York.

Flooding threat

The snow is not the only problem in New York, Boston and elsewhere. The storm could bring 40 mph to 60 mph winds, hurricane-force gusts and the threat of flooding to coastal communities, CNN’s Hennen said.

The National Weather Service issued coastal flood warnings for parts of New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

Officials in parts of New Jersey suggested residents evacuate from flood-prone areas along the coast, including areas still recovering from damage done by Hurricane Sandy in October, according to CNN affiliate WABC.

Delaware’s Emergency Management Agency also urged some coastal residents in that state to evacuate, saying flooding would cut off exit routes by later Wednesday.

The agency warned of almost certain flooding in areas, and said “conditions during the height of the storm could make the process of leaving flooded areas dangerous or impossible.”

Midwest recovering

The storm earlier dumped about a foot of snow in parts of Illinois, Minnesota and North Dakota, and paved a white swath across the Upper Midwest.

Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport had 6 inches of snow Tuesday, besting a 1999 record for the date by 2.2 inches.

It was the first snowfall of 6-inches or more in the Windy City since February of 2011, the weather service said.

Plows removed snow from roads and trucks spread salt and sand, but drivers still slipped off of roadways, leaving snow-covered cars to be retrieved by tow trucks.

Tuesday’s snow put a drag on air traffic in the Midwest, leading to delays and cancellations, but planes continued to fly in Columbus, Ohio, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, after plows slung the snow from runways.

O’Hare canceled 900 flights Tuesday, while Chicago’s other major airport, Midway, canceled 240 flights, according to the city’s aviation department.

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