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'Snowquester' shuts down Washington, snarls air travel

'Snowquester' shuts down Washington, snarls air travel
Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 9:53am

(CNN) -- They're calling it "snowquester."

A winter storm that set snowfall records in Chicago arrived in the capital region early Wednesday, forcing federal offices in Washington and school districts around the area to close -- hence the play on "sequester," the forced spending cuts making the rounds in government.

The electricity was going out in places, too, thanks to the wet, heavy snow downing trees and power lines.

More than 93,000 power customers were in the dark -- most of them in Virginia but also in Ohio and West Virginia, according to utilities.

Washington could see a crippling 10 inches of snow, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said. Snow totals could exceed a foot west of town, while some places in northern Virginia and West Virginia could see as much as 30 inches, he said.

Air travel will likely be snarled all day. Airlines in the Northeast have canceled hundreds of flights, including the one that passenger Alex Thompson hoped to take to San Francisco.

Thompson had traveled all the way from Kenya only to find that his next flight was one of hundreds called off until Thursday due to the storm.

With no hotel reservations and nowhere else to go, he said he'd find a place to sack out in the airport and "waste my time until I can get on my flight."

Capital closings

The storm prompted the federal government to close offices in the nation's capital, but emergency workers and telecommuters will be 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 905,000 students who attend major school districts in Washington, Virginia, Maryland and Ohio will get a day to play in the snow.

Flooding threat

In addition to snow in New York, Boston and elsewhere, the storm could bring 40 mph to 60 mph winds, hurricane-force gusts and the threat of flooding to coastal communities, Hennen said.

The National Weather Service issued coastal flood warnings for parts of 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.

Midwest recovering

The storm earlier dumped about a foot of snow in parts of Illinois, Minnesota and North Dakota, and paved a white swath across the Upper Midwest.

Chicago's O'Hare International Airport had 6 inches of snow Tuesday, besting a 1999 record for the date by 2.2 inches. It was the first 6-inch snowfall in the Windy City since February of 2011, the weather service said.

Plows removed snow from roads and trucks covered them with salt and sand, but drivers still slipped off of roadways, leaving snow-covered cars to be retrieved by tow trucks.

Tuesday's snow put a drag on air traffic in the Midwest, leading to delays and cancellations, but planes continued to fly in Columbus, Ohio, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, after plows slung the snow from runways.

O'Hare canceled 900 flights Tuesday, while Chicago's other major airport, Midway, canceled 240 flights, according to the city's aviation department.

-- CNN's Mariano Castillo, Dana Ford, Phil Gast and Joe Johns contributed to this report

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