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Snowstorm 2009

Record snow continues to fall as deadly East Coast storm lingers

Dec 20, 2009

(CNN) -- Record amounts of snowfall were reported Saturday afternoon at Washington, D.C.-area airports as a major snowstorm slammed the East Coast -- and snow is still falling.

Accumulation at Washington Dulles Airport reached 13 inches, breaking the old record of 10.6 inches set December, 12, 1964. At Reagan National 13.3 inches of snow were reported. The old record there was 11.5 inches set December 17, 1932.

The storm is blanketing the mid-Atlantic region and the heavily populated I-95 corridor, and 10 to 20 inches of snow were predicted for swaths of the region. See current flight delay information on the FAA Web site

In Virginia, one person died late Friday and two others died Saturday in a pounding storm, Virginia's emergency management department said. More heavy snow was expected in the state.

The foul weather prompted an emergency declaration in the nation's capital, stranded hundreds of motorists, brought havoc at airports, caused power outages, and threatened to keep hordes of Christmas shoppers indoors.

All runways at Reagan National airport were closed until 6 a.m. Sunday, and the Metrorail train line to the airport was shut down because of the snow, the metropolitan airports authority said on its Web site. The terminal remained open.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for the D.C. area, but reduced that to a winter storm warning until 6 a.m. Sunday. Forecasters said wind gusts up to 40 mph were "expected to create whiteout conditions later this afternoon."

The storm stretched from Tennessee and North Carolina to the southern New England states, nearly shutting down Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York.

Other areas braving and expecting heavy snow included Baltimore, Maryland, where a blizzard warning has been declared; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; New York; Richmond, Virginia; and regions from Tennessee and North Carolina to the southern New England states.

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In Virginia, the emergency management agency said many roads in the western region were considered hazardous, motorists were stranded across the state, and local and state officials were helping them.

"As we continue to assist motorists who are stranded, I strongly urge everyone to stay at home and off the roads," said Michael Cline, state coordinator for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. "There are hundreds of vehicles abandoned or stuck on roads. There is already one to two feet of snow on the roads, and snow is still falling."

Parts of U.S. 29 and Interstates 77 and 81 were closed. More than 500 people have made their way to shelters in a number of Virginia communities. More than 29,000 customers have lost power in the Shenandoah Valley, and more outages are expected. People in coastal areas are warned to prepare for flooding.See traffic and road closure information on the U.S. DOT Web site

A spokesman said the Virginia National Guard is working with other agencies to transport stranded motorists to shelters, and is getting food and water to people stuck in their vehicles. Around 25 people have been transported to a shelter at the University of Virginia.

The guard is setting up centers across the state, and up to 300 members will be deployed in the field by the end of the day.

In Washington, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said the storm is "perhaps the biggest we've seen in several years."

"We are going to throw everything we have at it to keep the District open for business on this busy pre-holiday weekend," Fenty said when he announced the snow emergency.

The D.C. snow emergency, which went into effect at 7 a.m. Saturday, came as important business was going on at the U.S. Senate. Undaunted by the snowy conditions, senators passed a defense spending bill and thrashed out the contentious health care legislation.

The mayor urged residents to stay put.

"We urge everyone, if you don't have to go anywhere, wait. This snow should end early [Sunday] morning with a 24-hour cleanup. We should have a lot of streets ready to go by rush hour Monday. And, hopefully, all of it done between Monday and Wednesday."

The district deployed crews to salt and plow and noted that under a snow emergency in Washington, "all vehicles must be moved immediately from marked snow emergency routes" and parking is prohibited on those roadways.

There have been car accidents and hundreds of police officers have been deployed. Nine people were taken to a hospital after a bus and a city snowplow collided, a D.C. fire official said. The injuries are not considered serious.

The district said the rail system will be running "very close to a normal schedule in snowfall of up to six inches."

If snow accumulates more than 8 inches, above-ground rail service may be suspended and and only underground stations would be open. As of Saturday morning, the metro rail system was running normally, but the bus system was running only on emergency snow routes.

Meanwhile, Metrorail trains in Washington were to stop serving above-ground stations Saturday afternoon because of the "heavy snowfall that is covering the electrified third rail, which is situated eight inches above the ground. The third rail must be clear of snow and ice because it is the source of electricity that powers the trains," according to a district news release.

Trains will be shifted to underground travel, and the underground Metrorail stations will remain open until 3 a.m., the normal closing time for a Saturday night.

"We have been monitoring the snowfall and the forecast closely since last night," said Metro General Manager John Catoe. "We ran trains throughout the night to keep the tracks clear of snow and ice, but we are fast reaching the point where we risk trains becoming stranded on snow-covered tracks. To prevent that from happening, we will cease above-ground operations at 1 p.m."

Officials said all Metrobus service will stop at 1 p.m. "because roadways are quickly becoming impassable."

In West Virginia, Gov. Joe Manchin on Saturday declared a state of emergency and "authorized the use of the National Guard to assist with snow removal and emergency assistance and operations." Manchin said in a statement that West Virginia is working to help stranded motorists, clear roadways, and restore power outages.

"However, snow continues to accumulate as the storm moves north through the state," he said. "I urge all residents to avoid unnecessary travel. This is a major storm and they should not add to the danger by driving if they don't absolutely have to be outside."

Manchin also canceled the annual Christmas party on Saturday at the Governor's Mansion.

Air travelers en route to holiday destinations may face delays, said Tammy Jones, spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration. Virgin America Airlines said it was canceling all incoming and outgoing flights to Washington/Dulles Airport on Saturday in advance of the storm. Ice and snow caused arriving flight delays at the Philadelphia International Airport.

Delta Air Lines said it has canceled all flights in and out of Washington area airports and might cancel flight operations in and out of the New York area later on Saturday.

AirTran spokeswoman Quinnie Jenkins said all arrivals into the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Reagan National Airport, and Dulles were canceled and departures were severely delayed.

American Airlines is also canceling all flights in and outbound to D.C. area airports, Baltimore, and Philadelphia because of the weather.

In Roanoke, Virginia, the regional airport had resumed preliminary operations Saturday afternoon with a single runway open after it was forced to shut down Friday night, according to airport spokeswoman Sherry Wallace.

The National Football League announced that start times for two games have been moved from 1 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. Sunday because of the weather. They are the Chicago Bears-Baltimore Ravens game in Baltimore and the San Francisco 49ers-Philadelphia Eagles contest in Philadelphia.

In North Carolina, the State Highway Patrol said it had received more than 1,000 calls to assist in crashes or motorists stranded in 8 inches of snow.

The storm was expected to taper off in parts of North Carolina on Saturday, the weather service said. But it still had a winter storm warning in effect into the evening. Forecasters expected as much as 8 more inches of snow in parts of central North Carolina.

In Asheville, North Carolina, snow covered the roads, making for difficult commutes. Some residents, like iReporter Ed Jenest, figured it was better to stay home.

"It's a great day not to go anywhere," he said. "We're listening to music and we've got a fire going."

The storm is expected to cause chaos for weekend travelers and Christmas shoppers, but a UPS spokesman on Friday said shipped packages shouldn't be delayed.

"The good thing for us and our competitors is that this is happening on a weekend," UPS spokesman Norman Black said.

He says packages set for Monday delivery are "on planes that land tonight and that offload tonight."

UPS never has packages in motion on a Sunday, even the Sunday before Christmas. And because Saturday volume is usually light -- because delivering on Saturday is a premium service -- Black expects few problems.

That is, unless the roads are still a mess and airports aren't cleaned by Monday.

Record snow continues to fall as deadly East Coast storm lingers

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