WASHINGTON (AP) — Mid-Atlantic residents were buried Saturday from a likely record-setting blizzard the president jokingly called “Snowmageddon,” and those brave enough tried to clear a path through the wet, heavy mounds of thigh-high snow.
The snow was falling too quickly in the nation’s capital for crews to keep up, and officials begged residents to stay home and out of the way so that roads might be cleared in time for everyone to return to work Monday. The usually traffic-snarled roads were mostly barren, and Washington’s familiar sites and monuments were covered with nearly 2 feet of snow.
Tihana and Jarrett Blanc had given up on digging, instead taking their dog, Hector, for a walk through northwest Washington during what forecasters said could be the biggest storm for the nation’s capital in modern history.
“Our car is stuck. We’re not even trying,” said Tihana, 36.
The storm toppled trees and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of customers in Washington, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The situation was the same in West Virginia, where some 400 National Guard troops were helping with snow removal.
Though the focal point remained the nation’s capital, people from Pittsburgh, across Pennsylvania to Philadelphia, New Jersey and West Virginia were dealing with snow being measured in feet instead of inches. It was still snowing Saturday in Philadelphia, virtually shutting down the nation’s sixth-largest city.
Walt Gursky, 28, braved the roads to go to the Philadelphia International Auto Show at the Pennsylvania Convention Center downtown. The event was a ghost town.
“Last year when I came, there was a line getting in,” Gursky said in the normally mobbed facility. “Much more relaxing in here — you can actually see what you want.”
Hundreds of car wrecks were reported across the region, though only two deaths were reported — a father and son who died while helping another motorist in Virginia. By Saturday, most people couldn’t drive anywhere because their cars and roads were buried.
In Ellicott City, Md., Christine Benkoski said she was trying to dig out from at least 2 feet. As she tried to clear her driveway, she said she uncovered how the storm had transitioned from snow, to ice, then back to snow.
“I feel like an archaeologist,” Benkoski said.
“I’ve been out here for an hour, and my only goal is to get to the street.”
And President Barack Obama, a snow veteran from his days in Chicago, didn’t have a smooth day. He walked out of the White House midmorning to find the South Lawn, his backyard, looking nearly like an untouched wilderness. Instead of the familiar scenes of manicured lawns and clipped hedges, snow had piled on every shrub and the backyard was almost colorless.
First, there was a small fender bender on the White House south lawn. Then a tree branch, overcome with snow, cracked and fell on a motorcade vehicle with press inside when the president was coming back from a speech at the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting in town.
Instead of a presidential limo, Obama rode in a black SUV covered with presidential seals.
Obama thanked Democrats for being “willing to brave a blizzard. Snowmageddon here in D.C.”
Noting the president’s hometown, DNC chairman Tim Kaine said “It’s like an April day in Chicago.”
After all that, the White House announced Obama would have no more outings for the day.
Meanwhile, Shawn Punga and his wife, Kristine, were making plans to move to a hotel if the power was not restored to their house in Silver Spring, Md. They were concerned for their 2-year-old daughter, Ryder, who was bundled up in thick pink pajamas and slippers.
“I have just been watching the thermostat. If it hits 60, that’s when we’re going to pack up,” he said.
Airlines canceled flights, churches called off weekend services, and Amtrak and commuter trains ground to a halt. Some people wondered if they would be stuck at home for several days.
At Dulles International Airport, part of a hangar roof collapsed and damaged some of the private jets housed inside, though no one was hurt, said Courtney Mickalonis, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Snow crews worked overnight, but “it’s coming down faster than we can keep up with it,” she said.
The snow comes less than two months after a Dec. 19 storm dumped more than 16 inches on Washington. Snowfalls of this magnitude — let alone two in one season — are rare in the area. According to the National Weather Service, Washington has gotten more than a foot of snow only 13 times since 1870.
The heaviest on record was 28 inches in January 1922. The biggest snowfall for the Washington-Baltimore area is believed to have been in 1772, before official records were kept, when as much as 3 feet fell, which George Washington and Thomas Jefferson penned in their diaries.
Despite the onslaught, some ventured outside for a chance to play. Snowballs were flying in normally bustling DuPont Circle, a major Washington thoroughfare. Hundreds of people gathered for a snowball fight with word spreading through Facebook, Twitter and TV commentators.
Carolyn Matuska, on the other hand, was loving the peace and quiet during her morning run along Washington’s National Mall.
“Oh, it’s spectacular out,” she said. “It’s so beautiful. The temperature’s perfect, it’s quiet, there’s nobody out, it’s a beautiful day.”
Associated Press writers Carol Druga, Sarah Brumfield, Christine Simmons and Philip Elliott in Washington, Kathleen Miller in Arlington, Va., and Alex Dominguez in Baltimore contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.