This story was updated at 4:58 p.m. on March 5, 2013.
Kirk Johnson lifted a shovel off the rack at the Home Depot on Shady Grove Road Tuesday morning and dragged it along the store’s concrete floor, testing how well the tool would work during the storm.
“I need something that will pick up the snow and not just push it,” said Johnson, who purchased two shovels for his business, Rockville-based Johnson Hydro Seeding.
Shovels and salt are selling fast at the Gaithersburg location, assistant manager Ellen Carlson said. The store opened at 6 a.m., she said, though customers started clearing the shelves Monday night in preparation for the storm.
“They’re taking this a lot more seriously” than the previous forecasts this season, Carlson said, noting that no more snow supplies will be ordered for the season.
An email from Alert Montgomery on Tuesday afternoon said Montgomery County is in a winter-storm warning from midnight Wednesday morning until 3 a.m. on Thursday. The storm is expected to start as rain Tuesday evening but change over into snow late evening, the email said.
The county could see 2 to 4 inches of snow Tuesday night and an additional 4 to 6 inches Wednesday, the email said, and wind gusts could be as high as 35 mph.
Work gloves, snow blowers, window scrapers and firewood were also lining the shelves. About nine types of generators were available at the store for between $500 and $1,000, though Home Depot staff said customers don’t tend to purchase generators until they lose power.
Pepco already has gone into “storm mode,” Pepco spokesman Marcus Beal said. He said more than 450 line contractors and 300 tree contractors will be working in the utility’s service area, which encompasses the District, and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
Pepco is closely monitoring the weather and is making sure staff is prepared. About 250 crews have been secured from other utilities, traveling from as far as Alabama and Georgia, he said.
“This is a major event, and it may cause some significant damage to our system,” Beal said.
Customer call centers for Pepco are fully staffed and will be operating overnight, Beal said.
The storm is supposed to bring heavy, wet snow, which can cause damage to tree limbs and down power lines, Beal said.
Montgomery County will determine if county offices are closed between 4 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, said Esther Bowring, spokespwoman for the county. She said up-to-date information on closings will be available on the county website.
Montgomery County Public Schools will determine by 5 a.m. Wednesday if schools will be closed.
Closures are posted on the school system’s home page, www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org, and broadcast on the school system’s cable TV channel 34 for Comcast, channel 36 for Verizon FIOS and channel 89 for RCN.
Prince George’s County agencies have issued alerts to notify residents of possible power outages and difficult driving conditions while the storm watch is in effect.
According to NWS, the area could see five inches or more of snow accumulation, with temperatures in the mid 30’s and wind gusts up to 25 miles per hour.
The Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department is preparing for high call volumes for emergencies, and fire officials are reminding residents how to stay safe.
“Stay safe by keeping fire safety and injury prevention a priority in your activities,” said Mark Brady, chief spokesman for the fire/EMS department. “It’s important to remember that fire apparatus and ambulances will be slower to respond to your emergencies due to the weather and hazardous driving conditions.”
Brady said residents should ensure that cell phones and electronic devices are fully charged and said residents should also check their smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors before the storm arrives.
He also advised residents to stay indoors and avoid roads if possible.
“Reduced traffic on roadways will allow public works crews an opportunity to clear a path that can be used by first responders to handle emergencies,” he said.
Rhonda Jackson, a spokeswoman for the Prince George’s Office of Emergency Management, said county officials are waiting to see what path the storm will take before determining if an emergency operation command center will be set up and if there will be any emergency shelters opening.
“It’s still a little early to say what we might get. We may get the bulk of the rain or we may get some snow,” she said. “We’re telling residents to take precautionary measures in case we see the worst.”
The State Highway Administration has pre-treated many of the roads with salt and have cleared storm drains to prepare for the storm, spokesman David Buck said Tuesday. While salt will be extremely effective throughout the storm, Buck said that with 6 inches to 10 inches of snow, SHA’s goal is to plow snow within eight to 10 hours after the storm ends.
On Tuesday, state and county emergency services personnel were busy prepping for the storm.
Maryland State Police warned motorists of the possibility of dangerous driving conditions.
“If you find it necessary to travel, make sure your vehicle is in good working condition and have an emergency roadside kit in your vehicle,” a State Police statement advised in advance of the storm.
Montgomery County Police Capt. Paul Starks said county police officers were prepared.
Officers were being asked to make sure their gas tanks were full and that their cars were in top shape, he said, adding that coordinators of the department’s vehicle fleet were readying the force’s all-wheel and four-wheel resources, should they be needed.
As with other weather emergencies, officers would be responding to traffic calls and help keep roads safe, Starks said, reminding motorists to drive carefully. If they come across street lights that aren’t functioning, they should treat intersections as four-way stops, he said.
Gaithersburg City Manager Tony Tomasello issued a snow emergency starting at 11 p.m. Tuesday, according to a city press release. The city is asking residents to remove cars from snow emergency routes and cul-de-sacs during the snow emergency. Failure to comply could result in ticketing and towing, the release said, and bulk pickup for the city for Wednesday is canceled. Regular recycling will be held as scheduled Wednesday pending an assessment of weather conditions in the morning, according to the release.
The city also reminds residents, property managers and businesses to clear snow and ice from sidewalks abutting their property within 12 hours of the last snowfall or freeze.
The city of Rockville plans to declare a storm emergency on Tuesday to get cars off of the street, said Craig Simoneau, director of public works for the city. The city is doing all of its normal preparation, including 24-hour operations beginning at 11 p.m. Tuesday night, pre-treating roads on Monday and Tuesday, making sure vehicles are ready and arranging hotel accommodations for crews that live outside the area, he said.
About 30 people are on hand to help with storm control in the city and all have been briefed on Monday and Tuesday to prepare for the storm, Simoneau said.
In Frederick City, Mayor Randy McClement is expected to declare a snow emergency, effective at midnight tonight.
In an effort to provide relief to both city residents and the city snow crews who are clearing streets during the snow event, all five city parking decks will be open for free parking after 8 p.m. today. The city recommends residents use the West Patrick Street Parking Deck and East All Saints Street Deck.
Frederick County residents can get up-to-date information via the county website at www.frederickcountymd.gov, the FCG TV channel 19 and through social media outlets, according to Frederick County Spokeswoman Robin Santangelo.
Highway crews are expected to start treating roadways around midnight, she said.
“It is too warm now to pretreat the roads. It is not the most effective use of our resources,” Santangelo said. “We have to use our resources and time even more carefully than we have before.”
Roads that are impassable will be listed on the county wesbiste at www.frederickcountymd.gov/roadsclosed, Santagelo said.
Residents are also being reminded to sign up for the Emergency Alert program for immediate information on weather instructions and closings- www.FrederickCountyMD.gov/ALERTS.
The town of Poolesville has six plows — four one-ton trucks and two five-ton trucks — ready to clear about 20 miles of road around the town, Town Manager Wade Yost said.
Snow removal will begin Tuesday at midnight, and any cars parked on emergency snow routes — which include Wootton Avenue, Spates Hill Road, Westerly Avenue, Hoskinson Road and Hughes Road — must be moved or they will be towed, Yost said in an email.
At the Monday Takoma Park City Council meeting, acting city manager Suzanne Ludlow asked residents not to park on the streets if possible to allow easier passage for snow plows. Takoma Park residents can check takomaparkmd.gov for closings or call the Inclement Weather hotline at 301-891-7101 x5605.
Daryl Braithwaite, director of public works for Takoma Park, said city plow drivers were sent home Tuesday afternoon so they could be fresh for a midnight shift, which will include six drivers, one supervisor and one mechanic.
Montgomery County Fire and Rescue said most winter storm deaths result from vehicle and transportation accidents caused by ice and snow, and advise residents to stay off the road during inclement weather. They also ask residents to monitor the weather by listening to local radio and television stations, sign up for text alerts from local government and sign up for weather alerts from NOAA and the National Weather Service.
MARC is monitoring the winter storm but had not made any operational decisions about service for March 6 as of noon on Tuesday. MARC anticipates operating on its usual schedule with full service.
When snowfall exceeds 8 inches, Metro may suspend above-ground rail service. In Montgomery County, above ground stations include the Red Line from the Grosvenor-Strathmore station to the end of the line at Shady Grove, and the Silver Spring Station to the end of the line at Glenmont. The only below-ground station in Montgomery County is in Bethesda.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority did not immediately respond to questions about closure decisions.
Staff writers Jen Bondeson, Sylvia Carignan, Daniel J. Gross, Daniel Leaderman, Lindsay A. Powers and St. John Barned-Smith contributed to this report.