Freezing rain, icy roads make for slick morning commute in DC area
Federal offices and schools across the area made changes to their schedules, as freezing rain and icy conditions complicate the morning commute.
Federal offices and schools across the D.C. area made changes to their schedules for Thursday, as freezing rain and icy conditions complicate the morning commute. Here’s what you need to know.
School systems throughout the D.C. area, including Montgomery County in Maryland and Fairfax County in Virginia, announced schedule changes for Thursday ahead of the winter weather.
You can see the full list of closings and delays here.
A Winter Weather Advisory has been issued until 1 p.m. for most of the D.C. area. An advisory goes until 4 p.m. for northern Fauquier and western Loudoun counties in Virginia and Washington, Frederick and Carroll counties in Maryland.
The National Weather Service said ice totals of around one-tenth of an inch will bog down commuters. A thicker coating of ice is in store for higher elevations of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia — and residents of the Blue Ridge are under an Ice Storm Warning through Thursday night.
There’s a mix of rain, freezing rain and sleet across much of the D.C. area and possible snow over the southwestern suburbs.
The messy mix will continue for the next several hours, with parts of the region falling below freezing, according to Storm Team4 meteorologist Mike Stinneford. That will lead to some icy roads, especially over the northern and western suburbs.
Precipitation will gradually change to all rain Thursday morning from east to west, but a few pockets of freezing rain may persist into the afternoon over the far northern suburbs.
Rain will taper off to drizzle and end Thursday night, but a refreeze isn’t expected as temperatures will stay above freezing.
Storm Team4 meteorologist Amelia Draper said she expects the Interstate 81 corridor to see the worst conditions, with areas north and west of D.C. affected as well.
“During the early morning hours, sleet and freezing rain are both potentially in the forecast,” Draper said.
By 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., it will change to rain inside the Capital Beltway, leading to wet commutes on main thoroughfares. It’s the secondary roads, sidewalks and parking lots that will remain icy.
By midmorning, however, these icy spots will have melted, but rain will continue through the evening commute, Storm Team4 meteorologist Chad Merrill said. This will happen between noon to 1 p.m. north and west of D.C.
“This means trees will get weighed down slightly by the ice; and secondary roads, parking lots and sidewalks will stay icy through early afternoon,” Merrill said.
Bridges and overpasses are first to freeze over, expect them to be especially slippery.
Drizzle will linger for a while Thursday night but dry weather is expected by the time the morning rush gets underway Friday.
Temperatures will stay above freezing overnight into Friday across the D.C. area, but not enough to melt the ice accumulation where it will be thickest, along and north of Interstate 70 and along and west of Route 15.
The bottom line: Avoid the roads Thursday morning, if you’re able. If you must venture out before roads can be treated and temperatures warm in the afternoon, remember to slow down and leave plenty of stopping distance from the vehicle in front of you. Use extra caution on highways, overpasses and bridges.
Ellen Kamilakis, a spokeswoman with the Virginia Department of Transportation, told WTOP that this ice accumulation is most concerning.
“This is worse than snow,” Kamilakis said. “There is no strategy to driving on ice. This is dangerous.”
This warning extends to bus and rail commuters as Metro prepares for potential hazardous conditions around the region.
Navigating the storm
The storm is a great opportunity for a refresher on winter weather preparedness, even if early predictions aren’t bullish on snowfall this season. WTOP’s Chad Merrill has a helpful guide on tips — and common misconceptions — when navigating an ice storm, including:
- Beware of black ice: Ice is difficult to spot, especially in the dark. If you see shiny surfaces, assume it’s ice.
- Sights can be deceiving: Judging an ice storm by the degree of glazing on tree branches can lead to a false sense of security, since ice often gathers faster and thicker on flatter surfaces like roads and cars.
- Don’t forget about fog: Warm air moving over a cold ground makes fog more likely, which reduces visibility in turn. Remember to use your low beams.
Accumulation of ice on wires and branches means scattered power outages are also a possibility.
“Travel is strongly discouraged. If you must travel, keep an extra flashlight, food and water in your vehicle in case of an emergency,” the weather service said. “Prepare for possible power outages. When venturing outside, watch your first few steps taken on steps, sidewalks, and driveways, which could be icy and slippery, increasing your risk of a fall and injury.”
For the latest road and traffic conditions, see WTOP’s traffic page or listen to updates every 10 minutes online or on the air at 103.5 FM. Download the free WTOP News app for Android and Apple phones to sign up for custom traffic and weather alerts.
THURSDAY MORNING: A mix of sleet, freezing rain and rain becoming all rain by mid to late morning. Mainly rain east of Interstate 95. High temperatures in the upper 30s to mid 40s.
THURSDAY AFTERNOON: Rain, with pockets of freezing rain over the far northern suburbs. Heavy rain at times. High temperatures in the upper 30s to mid 40s.
THURSDAY NIGHT: Rain ending. Low temperatures in the mid 30s to lower 40s.
FRIDAY: Becoming partly sunny and breezy. High temperatures in the mid to upper 40s.
SATURDAY: Partly cloudy, breezy and cold. High temperatures in the low to mid 40s.
SUNDAY: Mostly sunny and chilly. High temperatures in the upper 30s to lower 40s.
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