sNOw There's nothing sinister about a flakeless winter, but there's a chance of some falling tomorrow

January 24, 1992|By Douglas Birch Frank D. Roylance and Bruce Reid contributed to this story.

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.

That may change tomorrow. A cold, windy "Alberta Clipper" surged out of Canada early today, bringing high winds and 3 to 4 inches of snow to Garrett County. And depending on its track, it promised a dusting to an inch of snow tomorrow in Central Maryland, forecasters say.

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 North Carolina 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.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service at BWI said the colder weather would arrive this afternoon, producing snow flurries and sending temperatures down through the 30s, bottoming out at 15 to 20 degrees tonight.

Beginning tomorrow afternoon, light snow was forecast for most of Maryland. The chance of snow ranges from 30 percent in Baltimore and on the Eastern Shore to 40 to 50 percent for north-central and Western Maryland.

The amounts depend on how far south the storm tracks.

"If the storm follows a track that passes to the south of us, it will put most of Maryland on the snow belt and we could get as much as an inch," said forecaster Dick Diener. "If it brushes us to the north . . . the northern counties will get flurries and snow showers tomorrow."

Garrett County woke up to 3 to 4 inches of snow today. Up to 8 inches, combined with strong winds and a wind chill factor of 20 below zero, was expected today in extreme Western Maryland. The weather service advised motorists to avoid the region or to "be prepared for a very difficult trip."

Arthur J. Slusark, a spokesman for the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., doesn't care if it snows. He's watching the thermometer. "Some cold weather would be very, very nice right now," he said.

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 said.

Howard Phelps, executive vice president of Carroll Independent Fuel on Loch Raven Boulevard, said a few flakes wouldn't hurt. Some of his customers don't call for a delivery until there is a storm.

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

Not everyone is suffering. Alan Davis, vice president of Princeton Sports of Columbia and Bare Hills, said 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," said 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," Fred Davis said. "And that was it for the winter."

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