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Posted at 2:37 PM ET, 01/26/2011

Planning for evening commute

By Robert Thomson

Expect an early rush hour this afternoon as commuters take advantage of early release times or simply heed the forecast for snow starting about 4 p.m.

Federal employees may leave work two hours early, The Federal Eye reported. Some schools didn't open, but others are either ending classes early or canceling after-school events. See our closings listing.

For drivers and highway crews, this afternoon's experience is likely to be more intense than this morning's, challenging as that was. Here's what Jason Samenow of the Capital Weather Gang said during an online chat this afternoon: "The heavy late afternoon/evening thump of snow we've been talking about for a couple days is looking like it will materialize. The Weather Service has expanded the Winter Storm Warning over most of the metro area and is now calling for 5-10" of snow. Snow will fall very heavily between 4 and 8 p.m. tonight with dangerous travel conditions."

Some travelers, particularly those south and east of the Capital Beltway, will see the storm starting as heavy rain, then transitioning to sleet, before changing to snow -- heavy, rapidly falling snow.

The fact that this is a p.m. rush hour storm suggests a couple of things about driving conditions: Most people aren't going to look out the window and decide not to travel. They're already at work. So expect the same amount of traffic you saw this morning, though it might be more spread out.

Also, highway officials generally hate having to deal with rush-hour storms, because it means their plows will be caught in the same traffic as everyone else. They won't be able to do their job as quickly as they might during an overnight or midday storm.

Watch for rapidly changing conditions. Drivers know to expect the bridges, ramps and overpasses to be more slippery than the rest of the roadways, but in a storm that contains rain, sleet and snow, pavement conditions can sometimes vary from block to block, or mile marker to mile marker. Drive slowly and look way ahead.

And I must issue the reminder that so many of my readers insist upon: When you turn on the wipers, turn on your headlights. (And for those of you with automatic headlights, would it hurt to have the taillights on, too?)

The suburban train lines are fiddling with their afternoon schedules, but Metrorail expects to operate on a normal schedule, though you should expect crowding early because of the early getaway. Train riders may find their greatest hazard is on the outdoor platforms. Remember that those brown tiles have what Metro calls a "low co-efficient of friction." They're slippery when even slightly damp.

Metro workers can't easily clear the platforms as the snow falls. They can't just shove the snow onto the tracks.

Metrobus has no restrictions at this hour, but it might be another story if road conditions deteriorate rapidly. Even this morning, Metro had to impose some limits on its bus routes. Drivers will keep going as long as they safely can, but they may take some detours. And it's possible that as the storm intensifies, they may need to stop their runs. Have a plan for how you would reach your destination if the bus lines shut down.

Thinking ahead
It's going to be a wet, heavy snow, so be careful when shoveling your walkways. Also, remember to clear the snow from your car roof before you set off tomorrow, so you don't share a few inches of snow with some other driver's windshield.

By Robert Thomson  | January 26, 2011; 2:37 PM ET
Categories:  Commuting, Weather  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock  
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Next: Flying? Check with your airline.


"Metrorail expects to operate on a normal schedule"

So holocaust-style cattle cars until about 5, then empty eight car trains because everyone will have fled. Nice.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | January 26, 2011 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Metro website:

"Metro is a convenient & stress-free way to get around the Wash, DC metro area."

Posted by: TaxiDriver | January 26, 2011 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Just going to post a general PSA for anyone still lingering around the office: Rosslyn platform to Vienna and Franconia Springfield - utterly packed with people. Good luck.

Posted by: liz222444 | January 26, 2011 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Sardine can city. Today would have been an excellent day to telecommute.

Posted by: TaxiDriver | January 26, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

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