NEW: Shelters are open for 215,000 without power in Virginia
NEW: A coastal flood warning is in effect for Massachusetts
Virginia's governor declares a state of emergency
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They’d hoped to trade political potshots for wet snowballs.
Instead, the storm billed as “Snowquester” is turning out to be nothing more than a big wet blanket for members of the Washington D.C. Snowball Fight Association. The group had planned a big showdown in DuPont Circle, where a few years ago 3,000 people turned out for a humdinger of a fight.
But where 5 to 10 inches of wet snow was supposed to fall on DuPont Circle, not even slush was accumulating Wednesday afternoon, said organizer Michael Lipin.
“Quite a letdown,” he said.
While the storm was dumping plenty of snow in other places, Washington was getting just fractions of an inch, said CNN meteorologist Sean Morris.
In fact, the National Weather Service dropped its winter storm warning for the Washington area Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s just not panning out to be the storm we’d thought it would be,” Morris said.
In nearby Virginia, however, things were quite different.
Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency, state police extended shifts and the National Guard called up 100 troops for snow duty as inches of wet, heavy snow fell across parts of the state.
Authorities opened shelters for the 215,000 Virginians without power, according to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
Transportation officials reported particularly nasty conditions on many secondary and some primary routes in 15 central and northern counties, with deep snow or ice covering the pavement. State and many county offices closed early.
About 4,200 utility workers were in the field trying to deal with outages, Rodney Blevins of Dominion Power said during a news conference.
Airlines canceled more than 1,600 flights, leaving passengers such as Alex Thompson, who had hoped to take a flight to San Francisco, with plenty of time on their hands.
Thompson traveled all the way from Kenya only to find that his next flight was one of hundreds called off until Thursday because of the storm.
With no hotel reservations and nowhere else to go, he said he’d find a place to sack out at Dulles International Airport and “waste my time until I can get on my flight.”
The dire forecast issued Tuesday prompted the federal government to close offices in the nation’s capital, but emergency workers and telecommuters were expected to be on duty, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
The White House canceled a planned celebration for the Alabama Crimson Tide, college football champions, and Congress called off several hearings.
More than 954,000 students who attend major school districts in Washington, Virginia, Maryland and Ohio got the day off.
Amtrak shut down some trains in Washington, Virginia, West Virginia and New York.
But tourism goes on
Not all of Washington was shut down. Although the National Zoo was closed, the Smithsonian said its museums would be open for visitors.
Washington’s Metrorail system was running, although some bus service was disrupted, according to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
Along the coast, the problem wasn’t snow, but high winds and the threat of flooding.
The National Weather Service issued coastal flood warnings for parts of Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
Officials in parts of New Jersey suggested residents evacuate from flood-prone areas along the coast, including areas still recovering from damage done by Hurricane Sandy in October, according to CNN affiliate WABC.
A flood warning was in effect through Friday morning for the eastern coast of Massachusetts based on a “high confidence” for high winds, storm surge, and moderate to major coastal flooding, the state’s emergency management agency said.
About 300 National Guard troops will be used along the Massachusetts coast to help with flooding and possible evacuations, agency spokesman Peter Judge said.
Fifty Delaware National Guard troops were called up as emergency management officials urged some coastal residents in that state to evacuate, saying flooding would cut off exit routes. The agency warned of almost certain flooding in areas and said “conditions during the height of the storm could make the process of leaving flooded areas dangerous or impossible.”
High winds forced the brief closure of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in both directions, Maryland authorities said, but not before a tractor trailer overturned on one end, CNN affiliate WJZ reported.
Wind was believed to have been a major factor in the accident.
Power was out across the Delmarva Peninsula, which includes parts of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, Delmarva Power reported.
In coastal Sussex County, the 911 center reported numerous calls for wires down, vehicle accidents and trees down.
Water breached a sand dune in Sussex County, forcing the closure of State Route 1 in the county, according to DEMA.
The storm is the same one that earlier dumped about a foot of snow in parts of Illinois, Minnesota and North Dakota, paving a white swath across the Upper Midwest.
Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport had 6 inches of snow Tuesday, beating a 1999 record for the date by 2.2 inches. It was the first snowfall of 6 inches or more in the Windy City since February 2011, the weather service said.
Plows removed snow from roads and trucks spread salt and sand, but drivers still slipped off of roadways, leaving snow-covered cars to be retrieved by tow trucks.