Too Dangerous to Plow, D.C., Area Governments Halt Snow Removal

Washington, D.C., and neighboring Montgomery County, Md., may have just lived up to its reputation as "wimpy" weather warriors -- suspending snow plow operations as a blizzard bears down on the region. 

Or maybe not.

The National Weather Service on Wednesday used the phrases "extremely dangerous" and "life-threatening blizzard" to describe conditions in Baltimore and Washington, which have both set records this week for the snowiest seasons ever. Wind gusts have reached as high as 60 miles per hour as the blizzard passed through the region.

According to NOAA, before now, the snowiest month on record for Washington, D.C., was 35.2 inches, set in February 1899. By the end of the snowfall Wednesday, areas of Washington will have seen as much as 52 inches in February 2010.

The Washington Post reports that Pepco, the local electric utility, has suspended repair operations for the 3,500 homes in the Washington and Maryland suburbs that are still without power after the weekend's storms. 

Alexandria, Va., emergency services also issued a warning, "Due to blizzard conditions and near-zero visibility on the roadways, to protect the safety of city employees and residents, all snowplowing operations have been temporarily suspended until weather conditions improve."

While the rest of the country often makes fun of Washington, D.C., for being cowardly when it comes to snow management -- President Obama last year busted on the local government when his daughters' school closed down for ice, saying "when it comes to the weather, folks in Washington don't seem to be able to handle things" -- the nation's capital is unaccustomed to weathering six inches of snow at once, much less several feet.

The White House officially changed its tune on Wednesday when it told staff that they didn't have to come into the West Wing to work, but could telecommute. Sarah Feinberg, a top aide to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, told Fox News that Emanuel was coming to work Wednesday. However, senior Obama adviser David Axelrod said he's working from home with no plans to come in to the White House.

WTOP radio in Washington reported that the District Department of Transportation sent trucks to the Port of Baltimore to refill their salt coffers. As of Wednesday morning, the district had 9,000 tons of salt on hand, with another 32,000 tons on the way, well below the city's usual stockpile of 40,000-50,000 tons.

At the same time, the city is dealing with as much as 25 percent of its plows being out of commission at any one time. DDOT spokeswoman Karyn LeBlanc told Fox News that the city started with 204 plows, as well as additional contracted plows, Bobcats and front loaders but is facing a variety of repair issues, such as broken fan belts or salt spreaders.

If it's determined that the salt spreader is broken, it is sent out to plow and the salt spreader is fixed later, she said, describing it as a constant back-and-forth. 

As for salt, LeBlanc said they are not rationing as loads are coming in from Baltimore.