With weather problems blamed for three deaths in the metropolitan area, federal employees were sent home early Tuesday because of icy conditions that snarled traffic, hampered mass transit (search) operations and closed most area school systems.

The Office of Personnel Management (search) said employees were allowed to leave three hours before their scheduled dismissal time.

A rainy mist crusted up to six inches of snow already on the ground, causing traffic problems that killed three people in northern Virginia in separate crashes with snow plows. Icy conditions snarled the morning rush hour, and frozen rain and sleet were forecast for later Tuesday.