It began with an apology. Flanked by D.C. officials at the Farragut Salt Dome in Northeast on a freezing Thursday morning, Mayor Muriel Bowser said she was sorry for the District’s reaction to a clipper Wednesday night that turned roads icy and forced many workers to endure hours-long commutes home, even along major thoroughfares.
“I want to say first and foremost to the residents of D.C. that we are very sorry for an inadequate response,” Bowser said. “We should have been out earlier with more resources.”
According to the Department of Public Works and the District Department of Transportation, which both oversee road treatment for winter storms, deployment of trucks and personnel started at 4 p.m. yesterday, with the brining (or “pre-treatment”) of major arterial roads, bridges, ramps, and other elevated structures. The brine (in part composed of beet juice) was intended to lower the temperature at which ice would bind to roadways, and is still being dispensed throughout today. The District eventually tripled the number of salt plows on the streets, to 150, on Wednesday night. Bowser’s office also advised residents to avoid travel if possible and clear their sidewalks.
“As we saw yesterday, conditions can change at any moment,” the mayor added.
As for D.C.’s preparation for the incoming blizzard that’s expected to produce double-digit snow accumulations and wind speeds, Bowser announced that she would declare a “snow emergency” starting at 9:30 a.m. Friday, meaning people must remove their vehicles from snow-emergency routes or face fines. Additionally, all D.C. Public Schools will be closed, and District agencies will close at noon, with the exception of local personnel classified as “essential.”(D.C. will also handle the blizzard as a homeland-security event, so it can apply for federal resources when needed.)
The storm, Bowser said, will likely last for 36 hours beginning around 4 p.m. Friday. That means Sunday will be a “major” clean-up day, she explained, which could potentially extend into Monday. A volunteer “army” of more than 2,000 residents through the Serve D.C. initiative have committed to helping residents in need with shoveling and other issues that may arise, like power outages. At the conference, a Pepco executive said the company has over 550 field personnel and an emergency center. He advised customers to report outages and not to approach downed wires.
“We are especially concerned about vulnerable residents,” such as the elderly and people with disabilities, Bowser said. “We expect 20 inches of snow, which is a lot of shoveling.” D.C. will in all likelihood not issue tickets to residents for failing to shovel snow for this blizzard, the mayor added. She said the city would make emergency-management teams available so that private businesses could decide for themselves if and for how long they want to stay open.
On public transit, Paul Wiedefeld, Metro’s general manager, said the agency would release details about service changes and advisories this afternoon. Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier said it’s best for people to stay inside due to trees and wires coming down. She said that on Wednesday evening, MPD received about 120 calls at one point reporting traffic incidents, but that probably only about 10 percent warranted a serious police response; drivers can always exchange information, so it’s essential to call only during emergencies.
“The most important thing is, don’t take this storm for granted,” Lanier said. There’s “absolutely” the possibility for life-and-death situations during the blizzard, she added.
Photo by Andrew Giambrone