ROCKVILLE – Pipes burst, work crews struggled, pedestrians slipped and car wrecks on county streets increased after close to a foot of snow hit Montgomery County on Saturday, surprising residents and officials with its early start and large buildup.
According to the National Weather Service, parts of Montgomery County received between eight and 13 inches by Saturday night, far more than city and county officials initially anticipated.
“That was a pretty significant snowfall over the weekend and it was more significant because the weather forecasters got it wrong and way under predicted what we were going to get – we were expecting two to four inches,” said Craig Simoneau, Rockville’s director of Public Works. “It was a very, very stressful and messy weekend for our crews.”
Simoneau said the city manages its snow removal crews based on the expected snowfall and had only one crew assigned for Saturday. The city dispatched two crews for last Monday’s snowfall, which forecasters predicted to be greater than the amount the county received.
Faced with more snow than expected, the lone snow crew worked 26.5 hours straight – 14 more than the regular shift, Simoneau said.
Simoneau said the miscalculation in expected snowfall may have led to the large number of drivers who decided to venture out in the treacherous conditions.
Although Saturday saw no fatal collisions, the amount of traffic incidents in Montgomery County more than doubled that of an average day, according to Montgomery County Police spokesperson Officer Nicole Gammard. Gammard said Saturday’s total of traffic incidents came to 372.
The Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service also received an increased number of service calls during Saturday’s snowfall, a phenomenon that MCFRS spokesperson Pete Piringer said the department has been experiencing since the Valentine’s Day snowfall.
According to Piringer, MCFRS logged about 4,000 service calls in the eight days between Valentine’s Day and Sunday, far surpassing the daily average of about 300 calls.
Frozen meters and broken water mains throughout Montgomery and Prince George’s counties also plagued the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission into the weekend, according to WSSC spokesperson Ayoka Blandford.
As of Monday, WSSC got calls for more than 160 water main breaks in the previous week and got calls for 75 on Sunday alone. Blandford said although the normal time frame to repair a break is four to eight hours, the wait time is now longer because of the high volume and bad weather conditions that prevented repair teams and inspectors from traveling on Saturday.
Blandford said the melting snow and running water made it difficult to spot pipe breaks or leakages on Sunday. The number of frozen outdoor meters, which are in older homes and used by about one-third of WSSC account-holders, also spiked during Friday’s low temperatures.
“At the end of the day it’s really cold weather compounded by the snowstorm,” Blandford said. “Those changes in water temperature impact the system so we expect (the problems) to continue. When you have back-to-back extended periods of cold weather, it’ll continue.”
According to Simoneau, Rockville experienced a huge water break Friday afternoon that caused a crew to work all through the night. Simoneau said the city experienced two more water breaks Saturday during the snowfall.
Piringer said MCFRS expects the high service calls to continue, particularly as the temperature fluctuates. He also said people should be careful with heating devices and make sure to dump fireplace ashes far from the house so they do not catch fire.
Pepco spokesperson Marcus Beal said about 2,800 customers in Montgomery County lost power because of the Saturday snowfall; more specifically, because of heavy snow weighing down branches, softening soil that causes weak trees to fall and delaying crews from getting to sites that need repairs.
For the county as a whole, the warm temperatures on Sunday helped minimize traffic accidents, county spokesperson Lucille Baur said. County Executive Ike Leggett declared the first “snow emergency” of the season on Saturday, but lifted it Sunday. During a snow emergency residents should avoid parking on the roads and could get ticketed or towed if they park along designated snow emergency routes.
Baur said the county did not keep track of how many vehicles it towed, but towing is a last resort. She said if plows can work around the few cars along the route, they will.
She also encouraged people to clear their sidewalks in accordance with county law. Baur said residents are only fined based on complaints and she did not yet have numbers for complaints about the Saturday snow.
Simoneau said snow removal crews cleared Rockville by 9:30 Sunday morning.