WASHINGTON — Government offices and schools across the mid-Atlantic region closed even before the first flake of snow Tuesday, and by mid-afternoon more than half a foot of snow had piled up in parts of the area.
A winter storm warning is in effect for the entire area. The National Weather Service was predicting 4 to 8 inches of snow in the Washington area and 6 to 11 inches in parts of western Maryland and northwestern Virginia. Forecasts called for less snow along the Eastern Shore, though state offices and facilities were closing at midday in both Delaware and Maryland.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell declared a limited state of emergency as the winter storm brought heavy snow and high winds.
Roads in western Maryland were covered with snow early Tuesday. By 2 p.m., 7 inches had accumulated in Westminster and Frederick, and 5 inches has fallen in Essex, Md. State police said one person was killed in a collision on snow-covered Route 140 near Emmitsburg shortly after 11 a.m.
Construction worker Tony Cockrell made a stop for coffee at a Hagerstown, Md., gas station but said he planned to continue driving to work sites in western Maryland and northern Virginia to supervise the installation of insulation in building projects.
"If you don't work, you don't get paid," he said, adding that the forecasts for freezing temperatures are good for business. "We're trying to get stuff insulated so it doesn't freeze up."
But by mid-afternoon, Cockrell said he'd had enough, returning two hours early to his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Hillsboro, Va. About 5 inches of snow had fallen there, he said.
Many flights were canceled at airports in the Baltimore-Washington region, and travelers were stuck until the storm passes.
But the storm didn't stop a special election in northern Virginia that will determine control of the state Senate. Polls opened in parts of Loudoun and Fairfax counties, and officials urged voters to cast their votes early in the day.
Earlene Coleman of Herndon said she had been the recipient of so many phone calls and door knocks in the run-up to Election Day that she felt obligated to see it through and cast her ballot, no matter the weather.
"It only made sense to come out and do my duty," she said.
In the Washington region, tens of thousands of government workers were given excused absences ahead of the snow. That left many seats empty on Metro trains and buses during the morning commute.
Still, Mica Hoodbhoy of Washington said she was headed to work at her federal agency. She said she loves the cold, so there was no reason to stay home.
"I'm a federal government employee who goes to work even when the work is closed," she said. "We're supposed to telework. But why telework?"
Hasan Mansori, an attorney who took the Metro to his office in downtown Washington, said his only worry was getting home to Wheaton, Md., if the transit system suspends some service due to the snow.
Metro said the rail system can operate normally with snowfall of 4 to 6 inches. It could suspend above-ground rail service, though, during heavier snow.
Josephine Johnson, 82, walked to the grocery store early Tuesday, pulling a cart to buy fruit, vegetables and juice. She said she plans to stay inside and make soup.
Once the snow starts, "I'm not coming outside no more," she said.
For Tom Ripley, the threat of snow meant his usual 75-minute commute from Waldorf, Md., to his job at a hardware store in Washington took only 30 minutes. "There was almost no one on the road," he said. But business at the store was brisk with customers buying shovels and ice melt ahead of the snowfall.
Some were more adventurous, taking full advantage of the day off from work and school to head to the nearest ski resort for some runs on the fresh powder.
Jeanne Richter, an attorney from Rockville, Md., braved the storm in her station wagon to drive her 17-year-old son and his friend about 70 miles to the Whitetail ski resort near Mercersburg, Pa.
"My son just saved up money and got skis," she said during a fuel stop along Interstate 70. "It's supposed to be fabulous, fabulous, wonderful — I mean, better than you hardly ever see at all on the East Coast."
Associated Press writers David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md., Matthew Barakat in Herndon, Va., Randall Chase in Dover, Del., and Jessica Gresko in Washington contributed to this report.