D.C. winter storm: Sleet and freezing rain bring slick travel

7:00 p.m. — Icy conditions to persist into the morning

Steady precipitation has come to an end in the D.C. region, with additional batches of freezing rain headed for hard-hit southern Virginia, where tens of thousands are without power.

Overnight, travel will be treacherous and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. Icy patches will be likely even on main roads, particularly on bridges and overpasses. Ice has accumulated to about 0.20 to 0.25 inches in D.C. and its immediate suburbs, causing trees to glisten under streetlights and creak from the weight of the ice.

Use extreme caution if venturing out on a sidewalk or on side streets, as snow and sleet may obscure some of the glazed ice underneath.

Here is our updated forecast: On Sunday, spotty freezing drizzle should diminish early in the morning, but many roads and sidewalks will remain treacherous with temperatures staying below freezing through much of the morning.

Conditions should begin to improve by midday, and afternoon highs should climb into the upper 30s to low 40s under mostly cloudy skies. There’s the chance of a few rain showers toward evening as well.

This is our final update of this event. Previous updates below.

6:00 p.m. — Icy precipitation ebbs, but hazards persist overnight

The wintry mix that has been falling all day across the D.C. metro area is beginning to abate, but road and sidewalk conditions remain extremely dangerous. Even after freezing rain and sleet ends, freezing drizzle is likely to continue in many spots for much of the night, adding to the crusty glaze of ice already present.

So far, ice amounts the National Weather Service has reported are up to 0.25 inches in the immediate D.C. metro area, with greater amounts to the south and east. In Crofton, located in Anne Arundel County, 0.25 inches of ice has accumulated, according to a measurement from a Weather Service employee.

An observer in Falls Church, Va. also reported 0.25 inches of ice.

The official Weather Service prediction is for 0.25 to 0.50 inches of ice to build up on trees, power lines, and branches, though the actual amounts may fall short of that, particularly in our northern and western suburbs.

Scroll down to the bottom of this article for earlier updates.

Detailed forecast from 5 a.m.

Today’s daily digit

A somewhat subjective rating of the day’s weather, on a scale of 0 to 10.

2/10: The weather can’t get much worse than a day full of intermittent wintry mix mostly made up of sleet and freezing rain.

Express forecast

  • Today: Intermittent sleet and freezing rain. Highs: Upper 20s to lower 30s.
  • Tonight: Freezing rain tapers to patchy freezing drizzle, ending late. Lows: Mid-20s to near 30.
  • Tomorrow: Mostly cloudy. Highs: Near 40.

Forecast in detail

Hopefully you’re a fan of clouds and wintry weather. Today’s mess is just a preview of what’s to come as multiple storm systems target the region. The most significant icing today is likely in our southern and southeastern areas, but a mix of frozen precipitation could create hazardous conditions for motorists and pedestrians everywhere.

It doesn’t take much ice to cause big problems. If you don’t need to be out and about, it might be a good day to stay inside.

Today (Saturday): Mixed frozen precipitation show up within a few hours of sunrise, becoming steadier into the day. Although there may be some snowflakes to start (perhaps enough for a coating), with time the precipitation turns more toward sleet and freezing rain. The heaviest freezing rain is probably south and east of the Beltway.

For most of the area we might expect some accumulation of sleet and up to about a tenth of an inch of freezing rain. Further south, ice accumulation may be closer to a quarter inch. It’s probably pretty messy most of the day. Highs reach the mid-20s well north and west to near-freezing in the immediate area. Confidence: Medium

Tonight: The steady sleet and freezing rain will likely have passed, but some lingering freezing drizzle is possible into the night. Temperatures hold steady, with lows mainly in the mid-20s to near freezing. Confidence: Medium

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest weather updates. Keep reading for the forecast through the weekend …

Tomorrow (Sunday): Any lingering freezing drizzle ends early with temperatures rising above freezing between midmorning and noon. We may see a few breaks in the clouds, but not many if so. Highs are near 40, which allows for some ice to melt. A shower may pop up late. Confidence: Medium

Tomorrow night: Mostly cloudy conditions persist. Some light rain or freezing rain (in our colder areas north and west of the Beltway) may work in from the south. Lows are in the low to mid-30s. Confidence: Medium

A look ahead

Our next storm is loading up to attack on Monday. Some patchy light rain is possible during the day, as highs rise to 35 to 40. Odds of trouble rise into the night, when temperatures may fall enough for substantial iciness, especially in our colder areas. This storm may, however, draw in enough mild air for just plain rain in other areas. Confidence: Low-Medium

Rain and any icy precipitation (mainly in our colder areas) probably tapers off during the first half of Tuesday while temperatures rise into the 30s for highs. Confidence: Low-Medium

Snow potential index

A daily assessment of the potential for at least 1 inch of snow in the next week, on a 0-10 scale.

4/10 (): Odds favor iciness overall. But it’s a stormy stretch in peak snow season, so you never know.

Expired updates

5:00 p.m. — Iciness grows as blend of precipitation falls for many

A mix of light snow, sleet, and freezing rain is falling across our region, with the back edge of precipitation moving east into Northern Virginia. Steady precipitation should end in the D.C. metro area during the next couple of hours, but freezing drizzle may linger overnight.

Sidewalks and streets will be treacherous into Sunday morning due to the glaze of the ice and topping of sleet and snow. So far, the accumulation of ice on trees and power lines has not led to outages in the immediate metro region, but that’s not the case farther south.

In Virginia, more than 300,000 customers are without power in the central and southern parts of the state, where ice accumulations are greatest.

The next update will be between 6:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

4:00 p.m. — Iciness grows with sunset, road conditions likely to get worse

Wintry mix and treacherous travel persist late this afternoon. Conditions are set to worsen heading into sunset. In many cases, streets that were treated earlier have seen the salt wash away. Slick spots will be numerous, and travel is not advised.

The heaviest precipitation continues to line up from near Interstate 95 and to the east, which should be the case until it ends. We’ve seen a bit of a mishmash of wintry weather types lately, with sleet and snow even in the city. Freezing rain and sleet are likely to remain dominant.

Ice totals are running about 0.15 to 0.25 inches in the harder-hit spots around the area. For instance, there was a recent report of 0.2 inches in Aspen Hill, Md.

Some locations are getting to the point where we’ll start seeing more power outages. The photo above from Arlington shows the increasing weight of the ice quite well.

The next update will be between 5:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

3:05 p.m. — Conditions to deteriorate with the sun setting

Temperatures have probably reached their peak for the day in most spots. Locally, the warmest is about 30 degrees, with a few locations in southern Maryland currently tickling freezing.

As the sun goes down, icing will have an easier time occurring, even on previously wet surfaces. Anything untreated should be considered slippery and travel should be avoided when possible.

While precipitation is winding down the next few hours, it may persist locally into the mid- or late evening, especially near and east of Interstate 95. Current high-resolution models suggest precipitation ending in the immediate area by about 7 to 9 p.m.

And as the freezing rain (plus some sleet or snow) continues, risk for some power outages grows. According to PowerOutage.us, there are about 450,000 customers in the dark in Virginia and North Carolina as of publish time, with outages creeping our way.

You might want to keep the phone charged, just in case.

2:05 p.m. — Ice storm warning now includes the D.C. area

“Roadways are becoming very icy and dangerous,” the Weather Service wrote in the warning statement, while predicting up to 0.2 to 0.3 inches of ice accumulation. “Avoid all unnecessary travel.”

1:15 p.m. — Ice accretion growing across the region as sleet continues to mix in

Freezing rain totals are near a tenth of an inch in much of the area early this afternoon. Icing continues.

Recent reports include 0.13 inches of ice in Bryantown, Md., in our southeastern suburbs. Similar numbers have come in from western suburbs, with 0.12 inches of ice in Countryside, Va., and 0.10 inches in Chantilly.

We’ve seen the same in Washington, and CWG’s Matthew Cappucci reports on the iciness from Alexandria.

There’s at least some temporary good news in increased reports of sleet of late. It’s especially common west of Interstate 95. Sleet can add some additional traction in slicked-over areas, and it minimizes the ice accumulation on trees and power lines.

With temperatures below freezing everywhere, any sleety mix is still not great for travel. Unless absolutely necessary, staying off roads remains a good idea.

Some of this oscillation between sleet and freezing rain is likely to continue over the next several hours, with freezing rain remaining dominant to the south and east.

12 p.m. — Some areas west of the District changing to sleet as icy mix continues

As this icy mess continues, if there’s any good news it’s that some of our colder areas west of the District have seen freezing rain switch to sleet, which offers a bit more traction and does not build up on trees and power lines. On the flip side, sleet accumulates more quickly on the ground.

The HRRR model simulated radar shows this transition from freezing rain (colored in red) to sleet (in purple) through midafternoon along and northwest of Interstate 95, but then changes the sleet back to freezing rain later in the afternoon before precipitation tapers off.

South and east of the District, the precipitation stays freezing rain for the duration, which is why there is the threat of some scattered power outages.

While roads may just seem wet for now, WTOP Traffic and local emergency management as well as transportation agencies continue to report accidents scattered about the region, including this one on an overpass near Warrenton:

If you must travel, slow down on bridges, ramps and overpasses, which freeze first.

11:00 a.m. — Widespread freezing rain and sleet, ice accumulating; power outages in southern Virginia

Freezing rain and sleet are widespread across the region and untreated surfaces have a coating of ice.

“It’s an ice skating rink in North Potomac!,” commented Sumbal Sheldon on Facebook.

“Untreated sidewalks and parking lots are horrendous in Chantilly,” wrote Kimberley Mortier.

Meanwhile WTOP Traffic continues to report new accidents popping up across the region.

In southern Virginia, where some areas have seen 0.25 to 0.5 inches of freezing rain, power outages are mounting. This amount of freezing rain could reach some of our southern suburbs, meaning we cannot rule out some outages in these areas as the afternoon wears on.

9:50 a.m. — Freezing rain is dominant precipitation, becoming steadier; untreated surfaces glazing over, accidents reported

Freezing rain, with some sleet mixed in, has become steadier and more widespread across the region. We will see this mix of freezing rain and sleet continue through the afternoon with a better chance of more sleet (or even some snowflakes) in our far northwest areas and more freezing rain in the immediate area and to the south and east.

Reports indicate well-traveled and treated roads are passable but patchy areas may still be slick. WTOP Traffic reports several accidents have occurred in the last 90 minutes, including on the Beltway and Route 50 in Maryland. If you have to travel, be particularly careful on bridges, ramps and overpasses, which freeze more easily.

Slick spots are even more likely on untreated roads and especially sidewalks, driveways and parking lots. Some paved surfaces that look just wet may in fact be icy.

8:35 a.m. — Light freezing rain developing, slick roads may develop quickly

Radar doesn’t show it well but light freezing rain and sleet are starting to develop over the Washington region. It’s very light and patchy, but it only takes a small amount of freezing rain to quickly glaze untreated surfaces. Temperatures are between 27 and 30 degrees. Use extreme caution walking and driving.

The light, patchy precipitation developing now should become steadier and more widespread by 10 or 11 a.m. More sleet may enter the mix as precipitation gets steadier and even some snowflakes in our northwest areas. East and south of the Beltway, freezing rain may be the dominant precipitation type.

6:40 a.m. — Precipitation onset delayed somewhat, arriving around 9 or 10 a.m.

Radar shows icy precipitation still well to our south, only having reached as far north as around Richmond, which is reporting light freezing rain and 30 degrees. Short-term models suggest it may take until 9 a.m. or so until icy precipitation reaches our southern suburbs and perhaps 10 a.m. in the immediate area. By 11 a.m., it should be widespread across the region.

The delay in the onset of the precipitation may allow temperatures aloft to warm enough so precipitation starts off more as sleet and freezing rain, rather than snow, except in our west and northwest suburbs, which could see a quick coating of snow before the switch to icy precipitation. (An inch or so of snow or could fall in northern Maryland, where precipitation may remain mostly snow.)

The period of steady icy precipitation may be brief, only lasting until 4 or 5 p.m., but patchy freezing drizzle may linger well after that. The most hazardous conditions are still expected between late morning and the evening.

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