sNOw There's nothing sinister about a flakeless winter, and weather folk know it isn't over until it's over

January 24, 1992|By Douglas Birch

So far this winter, no flakes have triggered stampedes to the supermarkets. Tennis and basketball courts are drift-free. And Baltimore has barely touched its 17,000-ton stockpile of road salt.

Where are the snows of yesteryear?

Missing in action, it seems -- the chief casualty of yet another milder-than-normal winter in the region.

While the Baltimore-Washington International Airport would usually have recorded 9 inches of snow by late January, there hasn't been enough this season to bother measuring.

In fact, there hasn't been anything more than a dusting in the area since Jan. 11 -- 1991.

Alan Robock, the state climatologist and an associate professor of meteorology at the University of Maryland, says the Chesapeake region has so far been spared the ravages of a "Cape Hatteras Low."

These moisture-laden low pressure troughs form off the North Carolina coast and blunder up the East Coast a couple of times during most winters, sucking in frigid air from the Midwest and triggering whiteout conditions. That hasn't happened, partly because it's been warm.

Dr. Robock warns off those who would attribute the snow shortage to global warming, last year's eruption of Mount Pinatubo, the Pacific-warming El Nino current or some other globe-girdling event.

"It's just part of the natural variation in the [local] climate," he says.

Over the next few days, there's little hope for the snow-starved.

Fred Davis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service at BWI, says cold weather will blow into town today, sending temperatures into the 30s by this afternoon.

Beginning Saturday afternoon, snow showers are forecast for northern Baltimore County and along the Pennsylvania border, he says. As of last night, however, no flakes were forecast in or near the city.

Arthur J. Slusark, a spokesman for the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., doesn't care if it snows. He's watching the thermometer.

"We'd like some cold weather," he says. "Some cold weather would be very, very nice right now."

Consumers used 2.5 percent less electricity in December than the utility expected, and 5.5 percent less natural gas. So far, January looks worse for the utility, he says.

Howard Phelps, executive vice president of Carroll Independent Fuel on Loch Raven Boulevard, says a few flakes wouldn't hurt. Some of his customers don't call for a delivery until there is a storm. "It seems the consumer base today is more and more doing impulsive buying, know what I mean?" he says. "Spur of the moment. Urgency. Immediate."

Partly because of the warm winter, and reduced demand, Carroll's heating oil price is 20 cents a gallon lower than it was last January.

Not everyone is suffering. Alan Davis, vice president of Princeton Sports of Columbia and Ruxton, says sales of ski equipment have been good because local resorts make their own snow -- and a new resort opened recently in Pennsylvania.

Is the city pleased by the snow shortage?

"You know we are," says Vanessa Collins, spokeswoman for Baltimore's Department of Transportation, which controls the city's $1.4 million snow-removal budget. "When it doesn't snow, we save money."

Of course, it's still early. Winter isn't over until it's over.

But, if no snow falls this season, it will be the first time that has happened in Baltimore since they started keeping records in 1871.

The city came close in the winter of 1949-1950 with a mere 7/10ths of an inch.

"At the airport, in the winter of 1972-73, we didn't have any snow until Feb. 21, when we got 1.2 inches that day," Mr. Davis says. "And that was it for the winter."

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