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Ice Storm Closes County Offices, Schools

An ice storm last Wednesday that left Loudoun looking like a winter wonderland cut power to thousands of residents and led to school and county closings.

The storm swept through metropolitan Washington, D.C. at about 3 a.m. when warm moist air hit cold air sitting at ground level and froze upon contact. The moisture turned into icy rain that toppled trees and branches, sending some of them into roadways and power lines, and snapped the cross arms and wires of power lines throughout the county. Damaged electrical systems left 21,950 residents living in parts of Ashburn and Leesburg and in western Loudoun without power for a couple hours to a couple days.

“All day, we have been responding to loads of calls about power outages,” said Le-ha Anderson, manager of media and community relations for Dominion Virginia Power, about Wednesday’s storm. The company called out 50 additional staff members Tuesday night in anticipation of the storm and another 150 staff members on Thursday. “Ice can pose significant problems for electrical systems, and we saw that yesterday,” Anderson said.

THE ICE ALSO posed problems for several roadways, one of the factors leading to Superintendent Edgar Hatrick’s decision to close schools on Wednesday and call for a two-hour delay on Thursday.

“We had ice on cold pavement, people sliding all over the place,” said Wayde Byard, school press officer. “All the secondary roads were very slick, and the first concern is safety. We don’t want students and teachers out on unsafe roads. You can’t get school buses down those. It was a mess.”

County Administrator Kirby Bowers closed the county offices at noon Wednesday following a power outage at 11 a.m. at the County Government Center in Leesburg and reports that temperatures were expected to remain at freezing for the rest of the day.

“Given the limited number of staff that were able to actually get in, the power outage was probably the last straw,” Bowers said, adding that few customers called or came in for regular business that day at the County Government Center and the other county facilities. “I wanted to get people home before the dark hours. Bottom line, I didn’t want to add to the traffic in the afternoon hours when we could close and hope for a better day tomorrow.”

THE LOUDOUN COUNTY Sheriff’s Office sent staff out onto patrol normally assigned as school resource officers and for the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program. Sheriff’s deputies responded to 97 incidents involving downed trees across roadways from 9 a.m. Wednesday to 7:15 a.m. Thursday. A tree blocking Route 15 south of Leesburg led deputies to close both lanes of the roadway at 11:28 a.m. and keep the road closed for two hours. At about the same time, deputies closed both lanes of East Colonial Highway near Brownsville for a tree that fell across the roadway and was hanging over power lines. The deputies kept the road closed for several hours.

Deputies also responded to 38 traffic accidents in the county, a majority of them weather-related. One of the accidents involved a rollover vehicle. At about 6 a.m. Wednesday, Sterling resident Victor Lemus, 48, drove a Jeep Cherokee off the overpass on northbound Route 28, landing in the shoulder of Route 267. Members of the Traffic Safety Unit determined Lemus lost control on the overpass and was propelled into the guardrail, coming into contact with a snow bank that acted as a ramp, sending the Jeep into a 25-foot drop before it landed on the rear passenger side. Lemus was transported to Reston Hospital for non-life threatening injuries.

Since then, several fender bender accidents involving seven vehicles occurred on the overpass.

At about 6 a.m. Wednesday, the ice storm began tapering off, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures started to warm up from the freezing mark Thursday morning, hitting the upper 40s by mid-day.