Winter tosses an icy punch more cold due

January 17, 1992|By David Michael Ettlin Peter Hermann, Dennis O'Brien and John Rivera of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

Winter's coldest punch whistled across Maryland yesterday, with winds gusting past 50 mph, temperatures dropping into the teens and -- for Garrett County, at least -- the season's biggest snowfall.

Bursts of snow glazed the streets of Baltimore four hours before dawn, making highways treacherous north of the city and in Western Maryland and contributing to at least one traffic fatality in Allegany County, according to the state police.

Despite the sometimes howling winds, there was little disruption of power. John Metzger, spokesman for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., said only a scattered few hundred of the utility's approximately 1 million Central Maryland customers lost power because of wind damage.

"We have had some outages, but they have been minimal," Mr. Metzger said late in the afternoon. "Right now we have 80 people out."

The snowfall was the second this week in Garrett, Maryland's westernmost county, and was cause for celebration at the Wisp ski resort, which has been weathering the double whammy of a faltering economy and mild winters in recent years.

"Winter just arrived this week," said Wisp spokesman Fred Stemple, noting that the 4 inches of snow Wednesday and 5 inches yesterday provided a perfect powdery topping for the slopes' more granular, man-made base and that "this weekend should be the best so far this year."

"It was snowing and blowing, and even now the temperature is just 4 degrees," Mr. Stemple said. "I think that's cold, but it's good for the ski shop. We sell a lot of face masks."

The toe-numbing chill was blamed on surges of cold air riding the polar jet stream from the Arctic Circle in Alaska. It traveled south and east to the Midwest, then turned toward the northeast as it rode along pathways of high pressure ridges and low pressure troughs in the upper atmosphere.

The extremely cold air squeezed moisture from the atmosphere, producing the snow. Because conditions were dry to the south and east, there was virtually no precipitation south and east of Baltimore, said Dick Diener, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Baltimore-Washington International Airport office.

Temperatures were expected to climb to the upper 30s in the Baltimore area this afternoon, but Mr. Diener said weather patterns taking shape last night suggested the possibility of more surges of cold air by this evening and again Sunday.

The strongest wind gust recorded at BWI yesterday was clocked at 51 mph at 7:14 a.m. Sustained winds of about 30 mph combined with a temperature of 19 degrees to produce the day's lowest wind chill at BWI -- 25 below zero -- shortly before 10 a.m.

The city high of 35 was recorded at 2:35 a.m., after which the temperature dropped through the 20s during the day, then into the teens last night. The wind made it feel colder, but the temperature remained far above the 1-degree record for the date set in 1893.

Icy conditions resulting from snow squalls prompted a one-hour delay in the opening of Harford County public schools, and a tree that fell on a power line led to an early 10 a.m. dismissal for 600 students at Baltimore County's Joppa View Elementary School.

Saverio A. Cortese, chief of the Baltimore County Bureau of Highways, said icy conditions caused a two-mile backup yesterday morning along Jarrettsville Pike at Merrymans Mill Road near Sweet Air.

There was also ice on secondary roads in several communities in northern Baltimore County, he said, including Hereford, Cockeysville and Glen Arm.

Anne Arundel County fared better.

"Surprisingly, with the kind of wind we had, we had very little report of anything," said Fred Glaser, chief of road operations for the county. "Maybe the two previous storms brought all the trees down that were going to come down."

A snowy road in Allegany County contributed to an accident yesterday morning that killed a 57-year-old Pennsylvania woman and caused minor injuries to four others, state police said.

Ruth Irene Shroyer of Hyndman, Pa., skidded across U.S. 40 off Braddock Road in La Vale, west of Cumberland, at 8:10 a.m. Her westbound car plowed into an oncoming car driven by David Matthews, 32, of La Vale. Mr. Matthews and sons Zachary, 4 months old, Shane, 8, and Corey, 10, were treated at the scene. Those involved in the accident were wearing seat belts, police said.

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