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Posted at 2:55 PM ET, 01/11/2011

Beware of ice on region's roads

By Robert Thomson, Jason Samenow and Luke Rosiak

Update 6:30pm: Several ramps onto I-95 in Prince George's county are very icy, and a car flipped upside down on the Rte. 198 exit, according to the county fire department. That accident will cause further tie-ups. Sleet has turned into heavy rain near Dulles, and there's up to half an inch of snow on many roads.

Update 6pm: Precipitation is starting to fill in around the region and in multiple forms, especially in the western suburbs such as Tysons Corner, the Weather Gang reports. It will move towards the northeast. Freezing rain is being reported in spots inside the Beltway, forming a light glaze of ice on untreated surfaces. Be extremely careful where it is precipitating--and note that areas where precipitation is less can actually be more dangerous, as the more heavily-affected areas are blanketed in a dusting of snow, not ice.

Update 4pm: Looks like your commute will likely be quick and easy--er, at least not much worse than usual. The Capital Weather Gang writes: "Observations and guidance are now pointing toward a light event, perhaps very light (or non-existent) as you head south and southwest. Still, some snow should develop this evening, especially around D.C. and to the north and northeast."

Earlier: How bad could a midday snow of one to four inches be, given what travelers endured in the D.C. area last winter? That pretty much depends on us travelers. The highway crews have been out pre-treating roads across the region. Metro workers are prepared to remove snow from around the station entrances and platforms.

Now, it will be up to all the people who came to work today to realize that they may be dealing with different conditions on the way home. A little snow leaves some drivers -- even some pedestrians -- overconfident about their abilities to deal with it.

The rush period will be extended, because several school systems are either closing early or canceling after-school activities. Watch for extra traffic, either on wheels or on foot, where you wouldn't normally encounter it this afternoon.

While the forecast calls mostly for light snow, the Capital Weather Gang does warn of some sleet mixing in, particularly to the southeast. The main snowfall will be on the late side of rush hour -- 6 to 10 p.m., the Gang says.

The transit authority expects a normal commute on Metrorail, Metrobus and MetroAccess this evening. The main concern at this point is about transit riders losing their footing in slippery surfaces during the snowfall. While the transit authority personnel work on the station entrances and the platforms, they do not remove snow and ice from the hundreds of bus stops.

Unless the snow exceeds the forecast, there shouldn't be much impact on the Wednesday morning transit services.

Everyone could see this storm coming, so the warnings gave the road crews plenty of time to get out and treat the roads with mixtures of salt brine.

District officials are reminding residents and businesses that they are responsible for shoveling the sidewalks by their property. This is the first snowfall to test the District's new mayor, Vincent C. Gray. (There are few things that can get a public official in trouble with constituents as quickly and profoundly as a poor performance in a snowstorm.)

The Virginia Department of Transportation, responsible for neighborhood streets as well as highways in Northern Virginia, is following an extensive plan it refined over the summer. On Monday, VDOT said, crews pre-treated trouble spots on Interstates 66, 95, 395, and 495, including bridges and ramps that tend to freeze. Those areas included the Springfield interchange, I-66 at Route 29 and the Capital Beltway interchange at Route 1. Those spots got sprayed with liquid magnesium chloride. Other main roads, including the Fairfax County Parkway and Routes 1, 7, 28, 29, 50 and 123, got the more standard treatment of salt brine.

The Maryland State Highway Administration's crews also pretreated Interstates with salt brine on Monday. (The state is responsible for the numbered highways in Maryland, while local departments handle the other streets.)

"As people head out for the commute this evening, drivers need to be extra cautious, travel at speeds appropriate for conditions and give SHA crews the space they need to keep roads safe and passable," Neil J. Pedersen, the state's highway administrator, said in a statement this afternoon.

By Robert Thomson, Jason Samenow and Luke Rosiak  | January 11, 2011; 2:55 PM ET
Categories:  Driving, Metro, Weather  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock  
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