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Travel Conditions Likely to Worsen Today

The forecast: There are two waves of precipitation entering the Washington region, the National Weather Service says. The first has begun, and the forecast calls for several inches of snow.

Most of the precipitation that falls during daylight today should be snow. The intensity will vary, as will visibility. In the second wave, look for a change to sleet, ice pellets, and freezing rain. There could be a lot of ice tonight, perhaps more than a quarter inch, which could bring down power lines and tree limbs. Get updates from the Capital Weather Gang.

The commute: The morning, with a little light snow, won't be too bad if the forecast holds. Watch for some slippery spots on the way in, especially in your own neighborhood, and take it easy. Some big school systems won't open, which should lighten traffic.

The afternoon and evening could be messy, and there's a chance roads will be bad on Wednesday morning, because of the overnight ice storm. Follow along on our Traffic page. Look here for a list of cancellations.

Preparations: Local governments and transportation agencies know this is one area where you can tell right away if they screw up, so they mobilize ahead of the storm.

The District
The District Department of Transportation says deployment plans are in place, and crews are ready to clear snow and ice. They will deploy around 4 a.m. Tuesday with 124 heavy plows and 82 light plows. Crews already have pre-treated many of the elevated areas, such as bridges, ramps and overpasses, to eliminate icy conditions since it's been so cold recently.

This DDOT page offers online Snow Alerts. Here's a list of the District's snow emergency routes.

After giving people a million rides on Inauguration Day, the transit authority is feeling pretty good about its chances of handling Tuesday and Wednesday.

Metro will have up to 20 trains with de-icing equipment to deal with snow and ice on the third rail. Metro also uses heater tape on steeper sections of track. It's a cable clipped onto the third rail that is turned on when temperatures drop below freezing. It warms the third rail enough to prevent icing.

Bus service depends on road conditions, so there may be detours and delays during the storm. Those are posted on Metro's home page. Metro riders also can sign up to receive advisories through Metro's eAlert system. Or call this number for current service information: 202-637-7000.

Like Metrobus, the MetroAccess van and car service for disabled people operates according to road conditions. Metro says passengers with scheduled rides should call 301-562-5360 for a status report of their ride.

The State Highway Administration treats interstate bridges, ramps and overpasses with salt brine before a storm. Some drivers worry the liquid will freeze on the roads, but salt brine has a freezing point of -6 degrees Fahrenheit.

At the Statewide Operations Center near BWI-Marshall Airport, SHA staffers watch a bank of television screens fed by a network of traffic cameras. The center also receives information from road sensors, shares information among emergency departments and deploys snow plows and salt trucks.

The operations center can alert travelers about changing conditions through the overhead message boards. But before leaving home, check the CHART information center, which offers snow emergency information, traffic camera views, weather updates, maps showing average travel speeds on highways and road closure reports. There's also a Winter Storm Hotline at 800-327-3125 for road information.

In the past, the Virginia Department of Transportation waited until the precipitation hit the pavement to treat the roads. Now, the department says, treating will begin in advance of a forecast storm. In Northern Virginia, 300 miles of ramps, bridges and problem spots on interstates will be pre-treated with liquid magnesium chloride, followed by an application of salt to prevent the surface from becoming slick when humidity is high. All of the ramps and bridges at the Springfield Interchange and the Capital Beltway interchange at Route 1 are on this list.

Other critical interstate routes that will be pre-treated this way include bridges and ramps on Interstates 66, 95, 395, 495, and the Dulles Toll Road. An additional 200 miles of primary and secondary roads will be pre-treated with salt brine.

Good source of local information: Virginia's 511 network. In addition to using the Web site's array of information before leaving home, a traveler can call 511 on a cell phone in Virginia for updates.

The District offers this advice to help everyone get around safely:
* Clear sidewalks.
* Help your elderly or disabled neighbors remove snow from steps and sidewalks.
* Clear catch basins and fire hydrants.
* Remember that driving on ice is significantly different from driving on snow. (It's worse. For example, four-wheel drive SUV should not give you a sense of security. It doesn't do well on ice. And in a wintry mix, you can never be sure from block to block what you're driving on.)
* Use extreme caution and maintain safe speeds and distances from other vehicles.
* Watch for slippery bridge decks, even when the rest of the pavement is in good condition. Bridge decks ice up sooner than the adjacent pavement.
* Give the plow drivers plenty of room to safely do their jobs.
* Clear all the snow and ice from your vehicle ' s windows and lights. That means the roof, too, so it doesn't wind up covering someone else's windshield.

By Robert Thomson  |  January 27, 2009; 8:14 AM ET
Categories:  Weather  
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