WASHINGTON (AP) — A winter storm packing heavy snow blew into the nation’s capital Monday, closing government offices and schools and grounding the president’s helicopter. As much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) of snow was forecast for the District of Columbia, northern Virginia and central Maryland.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for the area, with wind gusts of up to 35 mph (56 km/h) forecast. Travel was expected to be very difficult because of the hazardous conditions.
“It was balmy and foggy yesterday and then 6 inches of snow this morning, not even 12 hours later. That’s not something I’ve seen before,” said Shawn Devroude, 52, a federal worker who braved the blizzard-like conditions in the nation’s capital to play with his 9-year-old border collie, MoJo, at the Naval Memorial.
The heavy snowfall, coupled with closings caused by the surge in COVID-19 cases, forced much of Washington to shut down. Four of the Smithsonian museums had already closed in late December due to a COVID-19 outbreak, and the National Zoo, which is run by the Smithsonian, announced Monday that it would close for the day because of the snow.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a snow emergency and advised residents to stay home.
“Stay off the roads and allow our crews to work,” she said.
President Joe Biden made a slow return to Washington on Monday after spending about a week in Delaware, though he could have departed Sunday to avoid the worst of the weather.
The snow grounded Biden’s helicopter, so he motorcaded to the White House from Joint Base Andrews in suburban Maryland, a slow slog that took nearly an hour. The White House Press briefing was canceled, although Biden’s other public events were still on.
More than half the flights were delayed or canceled Monday morning at Washington’s three major airports, according to FlightAware.com’s misery map. A quarter of the flights at New York’s three major airports were delayed or canceled as well.
Andrea Klein, 23, a graduate student at Georgetown University, welcomed the snow after spending the past two weeks in quarantine after one of her roommates tested positive for COVID-19.
“Things have been feeling a bit stressful in the world lately so to walk around in the snow with friends is a nice return to normalcy,” she said, while strolling around the National Mall taking pictures.
The Weather Prediction Center said 2 inches (5 centimeters) of snow per hour could fall in some areas, and thunder snow was possible.
Many COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites were closed in D.C., Virginia and in Maryland due to the weather. Multiple school districts in the region said they would be closed, delayed or have virtual learning Monday.
Karla Rivas, who is originally from Miami but now lives in Baltimore, experienced her first-ever winter storm.
“I love it,” she said. “I feel like it’s great to have the seasons.”
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for Delaware and much of the Eastern Shore and southern New Jersey, with expected snow accumulations of 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters).
Schools and government offices in central and southern Delaware were closed, while state courts were closed across the state.
Other parts of the country were also dealing with a snowy start to the new year.
Western Washington state and Oregon were seeing a mix of rain and snow while heavy snow, gusty winds, drifts and crashes shut down mountain passes and some highways.
Even Florida woke up to a dusting of snow, with temperatures plunging in parts of the Panhandle after typical beach weather Sunday.
In Virginia, state police responded to more than 500 traffic accidents, including a crash involving six tractor-trailers. The state Department of Transportation said Interstate 95 southbound in Stafford was shut down after the crash, as snow fell at a rate of 1 to 2 inches per hour.
The storm toppled a steeple from atop Cooper River Baptist Church in North Charleston, South Carolina. When firefighters responded to a report of a downed power line, they saw the church’s fiberglass steeple in the roadway. No injuries were reported.
The storm also damaged the docks and flooding closed several streets in the coastal North Carolina town of Morehead City. WITN-TV reported that some homes were surrounded by water.
As much as 6 inches (15 centimeters) of snow accumulated in north Alabama, where authorities reported multiple roads were blocked because of icy spots and wrecks.
Associated Press contributors include Julio Cortez in Baltimore; Colleen Long in Washington; Randall Chase in Dover, Delaware; Matthew Barakat in Falls Church, Virginia; Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia; Jeff Martin in Atlanta; Julie Walker in New York; and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama.