WASHINGTON – Life in the nation’s capital ground to a halt Friday as steady snow fell, the beginning of a storm that forecasters said could be the biggest for the city in modern history.
A record 2 1/2 feet or more was predicted for Washington. More than 8 inches had already fallen in some D.C. areas by midnight and 10 inches was reported in Pittsburgh as the blizzard blew into the Mid-Atlantic region, reducing visibility. Big amounts of snow were expected throughout the region.
Authorities blamed the storm for hundreds of accidents and the deaths of father-son good Samaritans in Virginia.
Several thousand people in West Virginia and Pennsylvania had lost electricity and more outages were expected. A hospital fire in D.C. sent about three dozen patients scurrying from their rooms to safety in a basement. The blaze started when a snow plow truck caught fire near the building, but no injuries were reported.
The region’s second snowstorm in less than two months could be “extremely dangerous,” the National Weather Service said. Meteorologist Kevin Whitt in Sterling, Va., said 4 inches had fallen in the Baltimore area and forecasters expect snowfall rates to increase overnight, up to 2 inches per hour, until daybreak.
“Things are fairly manageable, but trees are starting to come down,” said D.C. fire department spokesman Pete Piringer.
The heavy, wet snow and strong winds threatened to clog roads and paralyze the region’s transportation and retail.
Airlines canceled flights, schools closed and the federal government sent workers home, where they could be stuck for several days in a region ill-equipped to deal with so much snow.
Amtrak stopped most trains heading south from Washington.
Before the heavy snow started falling, shoppers jammed aisles and emptied stores of milk, bread and shovels.
At a Safeway in Hanover, Md., there wasn’t a single egg in the store, and only a few bottles of milk remained.
“I’ve come from two other places that are out of milk and sour cream,” said Cheryl Conner, 50, of Hanover. “This one’s out of sour cream, too, it’s crazy.”
As heavy snow fell at an Indianapolis airport, Colts fans arrived early hoping they could still catch flights to Miami, where the Super Bowl was to be held. Most direct flights were on time, but travelers passing through Philadelphia and Washington had to make other arrangements.
In western Virginia, a tractor-trailer struck and killed a father and son who had stopped to help another driver wrecked in snow on Interstate 81, Virginia State Police said. William Edward Smith Jr., 25, of Mooresburg, Tenn., and 54-year-old William Edward Smith Sr. of Sylva, N.C., died at the scene, authorities said.