Cold after spending hours in a car that had run out of gas in deadlocked traffic on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, Tammie Grice decided to walk.
Grice was headed home to Fort Washington, Md., from Gaithersburg, Md., just as the snowfall peaked during the Wednesday evening rush hour. She got stuck on the narrow highway that winds its way through woods along the Potomac River in northern Virginia.
After five hours, Grice abandoned her car and walked, eventually finding a U.S. Park Police barracks. She slept in a chair at the barracks for a few hours.
"I was just so lucky there was someone there to let me in," Tammie Grice said.
Her son, Kelvin Grice, 30, of Silver Spring, Md., said the family got worried after her cell phone battery died.
"We had family calling all the barracks looking for her," he said. Finally able to reach her on Thursday morning, he drove her back to pick up her car, one of nearly 100 left on the roadway overnight along the parkway.
The abandoned cars along the northbound lanes on few miles of the parkway created a slalom course for plows and other cars, said U.S. Park Police spokesman Sgt. David Schlosser. The parkway, which connects 20 small national park sites along the river, has no breakdown lanes and has longer stretches between exits than many highways, making it harder to handle such traffic backups, he said. Local roads were backed up too, leaving anyone who could exit nowhere better to go.
The snow knocked out power to tens of thousands and contributed to the deaths of six people. Some of the deaths were in weather-related traffic accidents.
Cars, trucks and SUVs still littered the sides of the parkway Thursday morning and a few people were digging their cars out.
Commutes that normally take an hour or less stretched to eight hours and beyond Wednesday night as the region's roads were overwhelmed by swiftly accumulating snow.
Authorities towed more than 1,000 abandoned cars around the region, including 230 in Baltimore and more than 650 from state highways around Maryland.
Logan Nielson, 31, who works in advertising for Adobe Inc. in San Francisco, was still recovering Thursday morning from a harrowing 60-mile drive from Washington Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia to his hotel in downtown Baltimore.
He said drivers were simply overwhelmed by the conditions.
"Literally, half the road was just people parked perpendicular. And cars in the middle of the road, just constantly," Nielson said. "I kept seeing it over and over again."
There was gridlock overnight on the Capital Beltway, particularly on an uphill section north of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, where 17 tractor-trailers were disabled. Another four jackknifed tractor-trailers closed the American Legion Bridge for hours.
There was trouble for rail commuters too. The Maryland Transit Administration put up about 10 passengers in a hotel in Washington after power lines blocked its Brunswick rail line, forcing one train to backtrack to the capital, transit administration spokesman Terry Owens said. With no service on that line Thursday, MTA arranged to drive the passengers home, he said.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley blamed multiple factors for the "nightmarish" conditions.
First, rainfall Wednesday before the snowstorm arrived made it impossible to pretreat roads.
"That was followed by one of the heaviest and most intense snows over the shortest period of time that started hitting right at evening rush hour," O'Malley said.
Shervonne Cherry, creative director at a technology company in Catonsville, said her drive home on Interstate 695 to Mt. Washington, which typically takes about half an hour, ended up taking six.
Cherry said she was within sight of her exit when traffic came to stop behind an accident. It took her until nearly 1 a.m. to get home.
"We didn't know what was going on or why we were stopped. There were a lot of rumors going on," said Cherry, 27. "At first, you could tell people were getting impatient. But after a while it was just like, 'OK, we're here. We're in it together.' So, there was a lot of civility. It was really nice to see."
In western Maryland, dozens of tractor-trailers were stuck on Interstate 70. The road was closed at U.S. 40 to free tractor-trailers by backing them down Braddock Mountain, one by one.
Kevin Writt of Knoxville, Md., said he distributed at least 50 bottles of water and 40 packs of M&Ms to motorists waiting two hours or more Wednesday night to cross the U.S. 340 bridge over the Potomac River into Virginia.
Writt, a guide for nearby River & Trails Outfitters, called it karma.
"Earlier that night, I was helped out of the snow myself by a plow driver for the Maryland State Highway Administration," he said. "It was really just an exercise in empathy."