Severe weather grips much of America

A light coat of snow and sleet tops cars and grass in Shirlington Wednesday morning. Photo: Kendall Griggs

(AP/ABC7) - The Maryland State Highway Administration is urging Maryland drivers to stay off the road in the early morning hours as icy conditions are probable--they are pushing to have drivers hit the road later on.

“Stay off the roads early tomorrow morning, so that SHA crews have the opportunity to proactively treat roadways before morning rush hour,” said SHA Administrator Melinda B. Peters. “When you step out and see ice on your doorstep, you can assume that roads will be icy as well..."

A light wintry mix and some snow greeted many areas of the greater Washington region when they woke up early Wednesday morning.

In the mountainous, high elevations of western Maryland, black ice froze roads and traffic overnight, stranding holiday drivers and keeping them from their destination.

"I had to stop, and when I did, that's just how far I went," stranded traveler Ryan Damstra said.

While the sloppy weather caused a few headaches and travel troubles in our area, it could have been a lot worse, as it was for many people in the deep South who got socked by thunderstorms and tornadoes. In all, more than 30 twisters touched down in Alabama on Christmas Day in what many experts say was one of the worst holiday outbreaks on record.

Meanwhile, it was a Christmas nightmare on I-40 in Oklahoma, where a massive 21-car pileup closed down the road heading west, while blizzard conditions blanketed much of the Midwest and as far south as parts of Texas.

Snow emergency plan activated for western Maryland

Maryland State Police reported multiple accidents on snow-covered highways across western Maryland.

Snow emergency plans were activated Wednesday morning from Frederick to Garrett counties as snow and sleet pelted the region.

Cpl. Robert Royer in Hagerstown reported at least one personal-injury accident involving a number of vehicles on Interstate 70 about two miles west of Route 63. He says several other accidents had occurred on the same stretch of I-70 west of Hagerstown.

Snow combining with ice made Elliott Ratliff’s trip back to Ohio a lot longer. It took his family three hours to get from D.C. to Frederick.

Stuck cars were not an uncommon site on side streets and freeways. One man got help from a Sheriff’s Deputy and other motorists to get moving again.

State police in Allegany County reported a flurry of accidents on I-68, and on state and county roads.

The National Weather Service predicts 1 to 5 inches of snow in most counties west of the Baltimore-Washington area, followed by freezing rain in the afternoon. The Maryland mountains could get 6 to 10 inches of snow.

While crews shoveled sidewalks and plows made laps up and down the freeways, some opted to stay off the roads, taking in the white on foot.

Driving conditions quickly deteriorate in Maryland

A miserable mess didn't begin to describe Wednesday morning's commute, and for many heading back to work a day after Christmas, the masses weren't ready for the sudden wintry weather.

"(I was) completely caught off guard," commuter Patricia Blevins said. "It's pretty slick out there."

For several hours through the morning, the wintry mix fell throughout the area, starting as snow and eventually turning into a stinging sleet and rain. It didn't take long for the icy slush to coat cars and roads.

On I-270 through Montgomery County, salt trucks started treating early and often in an attempt to keep up with the weather once the snow started sticking.

D.C. sees less than an inch of accumulation

It’s been nearly a year since residents in the District woke up to scenes like Wednesday’s, blustery snow on the National Mall, slippery sidewalks and cars coated.

The District saw less than an inch of accumulation and while it didn’t cause too many problems on the roads, transportation officials had 24 plow and salt trucks roaming the streets as a precaution.

Add the wind and cold and it was enough to make that morning jog a little more painful and the sightseeing stroll turn into a strut.

“The sleet, it’s sort of almost like tiny hailstones. It’s kind of awkward and uncomfortable,” says Trish Meier.

By midday when the snow gave way to a cold December rain, it quickly became clear the mild winter conditions we enjoyed last year are long gone.

“Not too rough. I’ve got this coat right here… and I’m coping alright,” says Tyrone Peyton.

VDOT deploys over 400 plows across region

From Fairfax to Arlington, people across Northern Virginia woke up to the white Christmas they were hoping for, even if it was a day late.

But like so many others, Loretta Scott’s mood changed in late morning.

“It’s a bit miserable for me,” she says. The snow had turned to a cold and nasty rain.

“I just want to get home as quickly as possible and stay there,” she says.

VDOT deployed 400 trucks across the region, salting and plowing roads, ramps and bridges. But in sloppy conditions, even with many drivers on holiday break, crashes seemed inevitable. In Arlington, a work van flipped on its side before being taken away. It happened around noon on the Dulles Toll Road in Reston.

Add high speeds to the stormy weather and you have a long day for tow truck operators everywhere.

Parking lots, side streets and sidewalks also got a lot of attention Wednesday.

Dick Burns appreciates the winter weather. “It’s invigorating,” he laughs. “It stimulates your body.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.