MELTDOWN: Now comes the slush as mercury rises, drivers retrieve their vehicles

December 28, 1990|By Joe Nawrozkiand Alisa Samuels | Joe Nawrozkiand Alisa Samuels,Evening Sun Staff Richard Irwin contributed to this story.

The snow, ice and freezing rain that caused major chaos on Maryland's roadways started to disappear today as area temperatures crept above the freezing mark.

"What was such a headache yesterday and last night will have pretty much turned to slush by this afternoon's rush hour," said Amet Figueroa, a National Weather Service forecaster at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

He said temperatures, reaching into mid-40s by late afternoon, would drop into the upper 30s overnight. Figueroa said the mercury could climb into the 50s tomorrow and into the 60s Sunday and Monday.

A lingering cloud cover, however, kept the mercury at below freezing in Baltimore and just above the freezing point near the airport at noon. Forecasters were sticking to their prediction that temperatures would eventually warm up.

Figueroa said 4 to 6 inches of snow fell in the Baltimore metropolitan area, with up to 9 inches reported in areas of Carroll County. Less snow fell south of the city.

The wet snow and freezing rain caused massive headaches for area police departments, as many motorists abandoned their vehicles at the height of yesterday's rush hour.

A state trooper at the Valley barracks said today that more than 60 vehicles were abandoned on the Beltway between Belair and Falls roads. He said those cars and trucks were allowed to remain on the shoulder of Interstate 695 until noon before towing operations started.

Phase one of the snow emergency plan -- which calls for snow tires, radials or chains on all vehicles -- was lifted in Anne Arundel County at 9 a.m. and at noon in the city, Baltimore and Harford counties. The plan was lifted at 12:30 p.m. in Carroll County and at 1 p.m. in Howard County.

Although police reported unnerving traffic jams and delays, no fatalities were reported because of the storm, 1990's first major snowfall.

Cumberland residents were hit hardest by the storm. A foot of snow fell there.

State Police Cpl. Lynn Knott said U.S. 48 -- between Martin's and Polish mountains -- was closed twice yesterday because of accidents and it remained "in terrible condition" today with dozens of cars and jackknifed tractor-trailers dotting the roadway.

"Normally, we can handle snow up here, but it was very slick and tricky; we've had a real bad mess," Knott said. At least 30 accidents and two serious injuries were reported, he said.

The snow storm, which began about 4 p.m. with the start of the evening rush hour, stalled traffic for hours throughout the metropolitan area. Scores of accidents, most of them minor, occurred on the major arteries and side streets.

Many accidents occurred when motorists changed lanes or attempted to brake their vehicles.

The slippery, snow-covered off-ramps from the Jones Falls Expressway, especially at Falls Road and Northern Parkway, caused numerous accidents, police said.

Overnight, the city's 120 snow plows and salt trucks worked to make the roads safer.

Baltimore County also had a large number of non-life-threatening traffic accidents, police said.

State Police at the Valley barracks said all the major roads in that area were impassable during the height of the storm because of ice and abandoned cars.

"There are empty cars all over the place on I-83, I-695, I-95 and other major arteries," a police spokesman said.

Traffic on the Beltway, the JFX, Interstate 70 and Interstate 95 moved at about half the speed limit, police said. And at one time, traffic was moving at less than 5 mph.

Bel Air police reported fender benders at all but three intersections in the town.

Fred Davis, chief meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said 2 inches of snow had already fallen at Baltimore-Washington International Airport by 7 p.m. Baltimore and Pikesville had about the same amounts, he said.

The last time the area had a major snowfall was Dec. 12 and 13, 1989, he said. Four inches fell. The snow this year was on March 24 and 25 when 2.4 inches fell, Davis said.

Baltimore-Washington International Airport was shut down for an hour at 8 p.m. to allow work crews to remove several inches of snow from the runways. Some flights were delayed, an airport spokesman said.

Even before the snowflakes fell during midafternoon yesterday, many residents exercised a grand Baltimore tradition for impending snowstorms. They hurried to stores to stock up on goods.

"We had twice as many [customers] as we normally see for Thursday," said Mel Gofstein, assistant manager for Super Fresh in the Chadwick Shopping Center in Woodlawn.

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