On Capitol Hill, rewriting the tax code was postponed. At the White House, the daily news briefing was called off. Offices where 300,000 federal employees work were closed.
With a winter storm heading into the mid-Atlantic, threatening to dump as much as a foot of snow in some areas before it passes early tomorrow morning, Washington ground to a halt, even as little stuck to sidewalks and streets.
Downtown roads were largely empty during the early morning rush hour as heavy flakes blew sideways, turning to slush when they hit the pavement. It was the first time since October -- when Hurricane Sandy moved up the East Coast -- that the federal government was closed.
The National Weather Service forecast total accumulation of 4 to 8 inches in the U.S. capital, with wind gusts of as much as 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour).
While much of official Washington was closed, others showed up to work. Scott Rowlands, an elevator technician, made his hour-long commute to Washington from Queenstown, Maryland, without incident. He didn’t have the day off.
“It doesn’t matter if there’s a snowstorm, we always have to work,” said Rowlands, 47, brushing wet flakes from his face. “People need to get up and down.”
Around the U.S., 2,034 flights were canceled, with more than half of them to or from Washington’s two major airports, Reagan National and Dulles International, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based tracking service. Schools in Washington and throughout the Maryland and Virginia suburbs were also closed.
Asked about the snow as she emerged from the Senate floor, Senator Elizabeth Warren wasn’t impressed.
“Come on, I’m from Massachusetts,” she told reporters.
On the other side of the Capitol, Representative Dave Camp, a Republican from Michigan, postponed the release of a draft plan for overhauling the tax code for small businesses. At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney called off the daily briefing for reporters, citing the weather.
At the recently opened Woodward Table restaurant near the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Joe Harran, the chef, said he’d only had about 20 customers by 10 a.m. The restaurant stayed open, even though it may lose money.
“Even if the government’s closed, there are apartment buildings upstairs from us and the people who live there may pay us a visit,” said Harran, 46. “We’re still trying to get all the exposure we can.”
At a Starbucks Corp. coffee shop near the White House, business was also scarce. The number of customers was down by about 80 percent by mid-morning, said Leon Evison, 40, the manager.
“You can have a hurricane, a tornado, a snowstorm, but if you have 10 closed Starbucks, that is when people really start to panic,” Evison said.