ROCKVILLE – The first measurable snowfall of the year left thousands of motorists stranded after early predictions of a “light dusting” of snow led to accumulations of more than four inches in most of Montgomery County.
The snowfall began before 5:00 a.m. Tuesday morning.
The moderate snowfall lead Montgomery County Public Schools to cancel classes after originally delaying the opening of school for two hours. Officials said the early decision bought the school system some time to evaluate the developing weather.
“When we had to make the call the snow hadn’t even begun,” Dana Tofig said. “We did call it later than we like to do, but to insure the safety of the kids we had to close the schools. It’s not a perfect science,” Tofig said. “It’s the first time we’ve changed our status in the five years I’ve been here. It was more snow than was originally predicted.”
The weather caused numerous delays for motorists – some reporting a normal 45 minute commute turned into two or three hours. Some, in frustration, headed back home and that, according to county officials, helped to cause a “reverse rush hour” during the mid-morning hours.
Nancy Haddad, a manager at Mattress Warehouse in Bethesda, said it took her nearly two and a half hours to get to work from her home in Aspen Hill. Similarly, Danielle Young, a research assistant at Westat in Rockville, said it took her half an hour to drive two miles.
Calvin Meadows, a hydro-meteorological technician with the National Weather Service in Sterling, said the accumulation reached 4.1. inches in White Oak and Rockville, but the worst of it was over by midday. According to County authorities, the accumulation beginning during morning rush hour made it difficult to get snowplows on the roads.
“It started at the worst possible time,” said Patrick Lacefield, Director of Public Information for Montgomery County. “The first thing we do is treat the roads, and then, if there’s sufficient accumulation, we start plowing. But if the cars can’t move on the roads, the plow trucks can’t move, either. If it begins at a more convenient time, we’re able to plow the roads sooner.” Lacefield said that, although the county received twice as much snow as originally expected, the response procedures had worked according to plan.
“We have a well-honed plan in terms of snow, and we’re pursuing our game plan,” Lacefield said. “Everything has worked just as it was supposed to and within expectations.” While the County is responsible for the maintenance of local roads, the nearly 600 miles of state roads in the county fall under the purview of the State Highway Administration. Kellie Boware, an SHA spokesperson, said that most state roads were clear by 2:00 on Tuesday.
“There were no good places in Montgomery County,” said Jim Battagliese, director of traffic and weather operations for WTOP radio. “270 was particularly bad; we had downed wires on Viers Mill Road. The problem was that people didn’t expect this much snow, so they went to work in their Mustangs and Firebirds, then couldn’t get up the hills.”
Battagliese said that county and state authorities had responded to the weather about as well as they could have. MCPS issued a two hour delay at shortly before 6:00 and announced closure at shortly before 8:30.Battagliese said that the traffic would have been even worse if it not for these measures, which curtailed school commuting.
“In other counties in the area, I saw many school buses and minivans stuck on the road,” Battagliese said.
Meadows said that the next chance for precipitation in the county would be Monday night, when a low-pressure system developing over the Mississippi Valley would move northeast. Temperatures will fall into the single digits over the next few days, creating a chance of a wintry mix early next week.