The Baltimore region's third snow this winter produced a holiday yesterday for children and teachers, overtime pay for highway workers, and a mess for the motorists skidding or snarled in icy morning and evening rush hours.
The snow began falling in Western Maryland about 3 a.m. and stopped in most areas of the state by early afternoon, leaving accumulations of up to 5 inches -- enough for an afternoon of sledding before the evening arrival of freezing drizzle and today's thaw with temperatures predicted near 50 degrees.
Baltimore received about 2 inches, Owings Mills 3 inches, Columbia and Finksburg 4 inches, and Frederick and Hagerstown each reported 5 inches of snow. In most areas, it was the biggest snowfall of a very dry winter.
Slippery conditions resulted in numerous minor accidents. The snow was believed a factor in one death -- that of Michael Wayne Wilson, a Silver Spring man killed on his 30th birthday when his pickup truck rammed the rear of a commercial truck stopped on a shoulder of the Capital Beltway in Forestville about 6 a.m.
Near Annapolis, the freezing drizzle caused a five-car pileup about 5:30 p.m. that closed the westbound lanes on the Severn River Bridge. A half-dozen accidents along the Jones Falls Expressway forced police to close the road for its entire length yesterday evening from downtown Baltimore to the Baltimore Beltway. It was reopened shortly before 9 p.m.
National Weather Service meteorologist Amet Figueroa said the snow ended earlier than anticipated, leaving accumulations in most areas on the low side of the predicted 3 to 5 inches.
The storm crossed Maryland from the west -- a pattern that in the worst of storms usually brings only 4 to 6 inches, and far less
than the coastal systems that can bury the region with a foot or more of snow, Mr. Figueroa said.
More troublesome was the temperature hovering at or just below the freezing point through the evening rush hour, turning roadways -- particularly elevated highways and bridges -- into vehicular ice rinks as drizzle and light rain hit the pavement.
The State Highway Administration said that 1,647 workers and 970 pieces of equipment battled the elements to keep roadways open and free of ice, and that 700 of the employees were still salting and plowing the roads last night.
"They'll stay out as long as need be," said SHA spokesman Charles Brown.
Schools were closed in Baltimore and 18 of Maryland's 23 counties -- leaving only students in the lower and middle Eastern Shore coping with the 3 R's -- and many colleges and universities canceled classes.
Even in Garrett County, accustomed to snow, schools were closed for what turned out to be a 4.75-inch snowfall -- measurement courtesy of Flowers by Webers Inc., a shop that has kept tabs on the weather at chilly Keysers Ridge since 1904 and assists the National Weather Service.
By the tally of florist Bea Crosco, the total snowfall there has
reached 71 1/2 inches since this winter's season opener in October. The average annual snowfall there since 1978 has been 87.3 inches.
At Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the official monitoring station for the Baltimore area, the National Weather Service said yesterday's 1.7 inches raised the season's snowfall to 4.1 inches -- well under the average of 22 to 23 inches.