Winter snowstorm pummels Midwest, heads toward DC

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HAGERSTOWN, Md. — After pummeling the nation’s midsection with heavy snow, a late-winter storm made its way Wednesday to the nation’s capital, where residents braced for the possibility of power outages.

As the storm closed in, the federal government said its offices in the Washington, D.C., area would be closed Wednesday. Many major school systems around Washington and Baltimore announced pre-emptive closures as well.

By early Wednesday, wet snow was falling in the Washington area. It was accumulating on the grass in some areas, but not on the streets as temperatures hovered above freezing. The worst of the storm was expected to arrive by midday.

The storm brought around 10 inches of snow to weather-hardened Chicago by late Tuesday, when snow was also starting to come down in parts of Virginia. Schools were closed in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, and more than 1,100 flights were cancelled at Chicago’s two major airports, prompting delays and closures at others.

Airlines along the storm’s projected path cut flights too, including hundreds more Wednesday at Dulles and Reagan National airports in the Washington area, according to FlightAware.com.

While there were no initial reports of major accidents in the Chicago area, a semi-trailer slid off a snow-covered interstate in western Wisconsin, killing one person. The search for a second person, believed to be a passenger, was suspended overnight.

As the storm pushed toward the Mid-Atlantic states, forecasters were predicting snow accumulations of 3 to 7 inches in the Washington area and up to 16 inches in the western Maryland mountains by Wednesday night. Tidal flooding was possible along the Delaware coast, the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay and the lower Potomac River.

The closure of many schools and offices was expected to alleviate snarled traffic in the District of Columbia. The Metro transit system was operating normal train service but said some bus routes would be suspended. Subway workers were focused on clearing snow from tracks, platforms and parking lots.

The Maryland Transit Administration was monitoring overhead power lines for snow and ice accumulation.

In Virginia, the storm was expected to dip along the coast and dump moisture-laden snow inland totaling a foot in the Blue Ridge Mountains and up to 21 inches in higher elevations.

Dominion Virginia Power had also alerted out-of-state utilities it might require assistance if the storm lived up to its billing.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell directed executive branch agencies to allow eligible nonessential employees to work remotely or to “be generous” in approving leave requests for workers who live in regions under a storm watch or warning.

The state’s emergency operations center was to open Wednesday morning, and state transportation officials advised motorists to avoid travel at the height of the storm.

“The snow is going to come down at a very fast rate,” agency spokesman Sandy Myers said. “We just need folks to stay off the roads so the plow drivers can hopefully keep up with the storm.”

The Baltimore-Washington area’s last snowstorm struck Jan. 26, 2011. It hit Washington during the evening rush hour, causing some motorists to be stuck in traffic nearly overnight. It dropped 5 inches on Washington and 7.8 inches on Baltimore, knocked out power to about 320,000 homes and contributed to six deaths.

Since then, the federal government has changed its bad-weather policies to allow workers to leave their offices sooner or to work from home if major storms are expected.

The current storm is part of a system that started in Montana, hit the Dakotas and Minnesota on Monday and then barreled through Wisconsin and Illinois on its way to Washington.

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