Power failures big fear as storm bears down on D.C.

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HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — After pummeling the nation’s midsection with heavy snow, a late-winter storm made its way today to the nation’s capital, where residents braced for the possibility of power failures.

As the storm closed in, the federal government said its offices in the Washington, D.C., area would be closed today. Many major school systems around Washington and Baltimore announced pre-emptive closures as well.

Officials said failures were the biggest potential problem from the storm, which was expected to dump 5 to 11 inches of snow in Washington and Baltimore by tonight. Minor tidal flooding was possible along the Delaware coast, the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay and the lower Potomac River, the National Weather Service said.

Already, the storm has been dubbed a “snowquester.” The nickname is a play on the D.C. wonk term “sequester,” used to describe the $85 billion that must be cut from federal budgets over the next six months after President Barack Obama and lawmakers failed to reach a deal to reduce the national deficit. The “snowquester” has shut down government offices just as the budget cuts threaten to do.

Maryland Emergency Management Agency spokesman Ed McDonough reported no major incidents as of this morning. There were about 600 power failures statewide as the conditions were worsening in parts of Maryland.

The State Highway Administration said it expected the snow to intensify during the day, adding to accumulations the agency measured this morning at about 7 inches in Keysers Ridge in the western Maryland mountains and 2 to 3 inches in central Maryland.

“We’re urging folks not to travel today and to leave the driving to our professional snow plow drivers,” highway agency spokeswoman Lora Rakowski said.

Areas north and west of Washington and Baltimore had been seeing snow since about midnight. The metropolitan region and communities to the south and east had a wet, wintry mix of precipitation.

Wet snow was falling in the Washington area this morning. It was accumulating on the grass in some areas, but not on the streets as temperatures hovered above freezing. The worst of the storm was expected to arrive by midday.

Washington resident Sheri Sable, out walking her two dogs in light rain this morning, said her office was closed because of the storm. She said the nation’s capital gets spooked by snow; even the dog park she frequents had failed to open at 7 a.m. local time.

“They just say that it might snow and the whole city shuts down,” she said.

The storm brought around 10 inches of snow to weather-hardened Chicago by late Tuesday, when snow was also starting to come down in parts of Virginia. Schools were closed in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, and more than 1,100 flights were cancelled at Chicago’s two major airports, prompting delays and closures at others.

Airlines along the storm’s projected path cut flights too, including hundreds more today at Dulles and Reagan National airports in the Washington area, according to FlightAware.com.

While there were no initial reports of major accidents in the Chicago area, a semi-trailer slid off a snow-covered interstate in western Wisconsin, killing one person. The search for a second person, believed to be a passenger, was suspended overnight.

Still recovering from Superstorm Sandy, the Jersey Shore, along with other parts of the Northeast, was preparing for another possible hit today and Thursday.

The storm should bring rain and snow, but one of the biggest problems could be flooding in areas where dunes were washed away and many damaged homes still sit open and exposed. Those areas could get 2 to 4 inches of snow, with Monmouth and some inland counties possibly getting as much as 6 inches. A coastal flood warning was in effect until Thursday morning from Sandy Hook to Cape Cod.

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