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Likely snow day triggers fears, cheers

HAGERSTOWN — A double-barreled winter storm was bearing down on the Mid-Atlantic region Wednesday, threatening to snarl traffic and cause power outages.

But as the storm approached the area, Baltimore County homemaker Mary White reveled in the prospect of watching movies and playing in the snow.

“I love it, I love it. I love it when we have snow days,” White said Tuesday afternoon as she hurried to finish errands before the storm.

The National Weather Service predicted snow accumulations of to 3 to 7 inches in the nation’s capital and up to 16 inches in the western Maryland mountains by Wednesday night. Minor tidal flooding is possible along the Delaware coast, the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay and the lower Potomac River, the agency said.

An upper-level, low-pressure system coming in from the northwest and a surface low sweeping up from Kentucky were expected to converge along the Virginia-West Virginia line, bringing heavy precipitation, cold temperatures and winds gusting up to 35 mph.

“Whenever you’re talking about that much heavy, wet snow and those winds of 20-30 mph with some higher gusts, there’s a concern for numerous power outages,” said meteorologist Jared Klein in Sterling, Va.

Both Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and Pepco in the Washington area said they would have extra line crews available.

The Maryland State Highway Administration pre-positioned tow trucks at rest stops and park-and-ride lots, and told its tree-trimmers to get ready.

“We certainly anticipate some signal outages. We certainly anticipate some trees down, which can cause power outages,” spokesman David Buck said.

District of Columbia officials announced late Tuesday that schools would be closed on Wednesday.

D.C. officials also said the snowfall could affect both the morning and evening rush hours. The Maryland Transit Administration was monitoring overhead power lines for snow and ice accumulation, and Washington’s Metro subway workers were focused on clearing snow from tracks, platforms and parking lots.

The last big region-wide snowstorm struck Jan. 26, 2011. It hit Washington during the evening rush hour, causing some motorists to be stuck in traffic nearly overnight. It dropped 5 inches on Washington and 7.8 on Baltimore, knocked out power to about 320,000 homes and contributed to six deaths.

Since then, the federal government has changed its bad-weather policies to allow workers to leave their offices sooner or to work from home if major storms are expected.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which sets leave policies for 300,000 federal workers, said non-emergency employees of the federal government would be granted excused absences for Wednesday. The agency was criticized after the 2011 storm for waiting too long to tell workers to go home, leading to gridlock.