WASHINGTON - The snow-weary residents of the D.C. area didn't think winter could throw them any further surprises following a historic weekend storm that buried parts of the region under almost a metre of snow.
And yet many were astonished on Wednesday morning to wake up to a howling, blinding blizzard that would do Winnipeg proud, with gale-force winds, major snow accumulation and severe whiteout conditions in a part of the world that usually gets little more than a few sprinklings every winter.
The U.S. capital and its outlying suburbs - all located south of the Mason-Dixon line - were once again paralyzed by a winter storm, the third major tempest to hit in seven weeks.
All three area airports shut down. Workplaces and schools remained shuttered for the week. Conditions were so hazardous that even snow plows stopped operating, something that was particularly heartbreaking for those living on the hundreds of residential streets that had yet to be dug out from the weekend.
Emergency crews also ceased working on downed power lines, citing hazardous conditions due to high winds. Tens of thousands were without electricity, with the number of affected households rapidly rising as heavy snow and falling trees continued to bring down power lines.
"We haven't recovered from the last one and the next one is upon us," said Stephanie Kaufman, 52, a federal employee who lives in the D.C. bedroom community of Silver Spring, Md.
"I can't believe that it's so bad that they've called the snow plows off the road. I have never seen anything like this. The back-to-back nature of these storms has just been astonishing. It feels like it will be March before life gets back to normal."
The National Weather Service agreed.
"It's hard to find anything in the history books of these types of storms back-to-back," said Stephen Konarik, a meteorologist for the federal agency.
By mid-day Wednesday, the storm had broken Washington's all-time century-old snowfall record of 54.4 inches in one winter, or 138.2 centimetres. At Ronald Reagan National Airport, 54.9 inches, or 139.4 centimetres, of snow had fallen this year - with more still falling.
An official for Maryland's Montgomery County northeast of the city, one of the areas hit hardest by this winter's blast, said road crews had been frantically trying to dig out the maze of residential streets - more than 6,500 kilometres of roads, all told - in the aftermath of the weekend storm.
Now the priority would shift back to major thoroughfares once the winds eased enough to get plows back on the road, meaning it could be a week or more before some residential streets are passable.
Efforts to clear those streets were already problematic.
In a hilly neighbourhood of Silver Spring late Monday night, two large snowplows got stuck trying to clear a road buried under about 65 centimetres of snow. When a fire truck arrived to pull them out, it too couldn't budge. It was early Tuesday before the fire truck and the snow plows were finally freed - just in time for the blizzard.
More than 200,000 federal workers in Washington have been home since last Friday afternoon, when the first storm hit. The U.S. House of Representatives scrapped the rest of the work week, meaning numerous committee hearings and other congressional business postponed.
Heavy snow caused part of the roof and wall at a Smithsonian Institution storage building in Suitland, Md., to collapse. A Smithsonian spokeswoman said there was no indication there was any damage to artifacts from the National Air and Space Museum, but officials were unable to go inside because the building is unstable.