After the safest and coolest Memorial Day in recent years, many Marylanders started home from beach resorts yesterday to find some -- but not all -- of the traditional highway bottlenecks awaiting them.
The most dangerous place yesterday was the water, with the Maryland Natural Resources Police reporting two drownings.
Fidel Salmeron, 19, of Hyattsville fell into the Potomac River and disappeared while fishing with family members near Offutt Island in Montgomery County. A search for his body was to resume today.
On the Eastern Shore, police found the body of Loretta Larrimore, 40, of Centreville, who drowned in the Choptank River near Bruceville after swimming away from a pier where she had been fishing.
In Ocean City, sunshine and temperatures peaking in the low 90s greeted holiday crowds whose idea of a traditional Memorial Day weekend -- the official opening of the summer season -- may be beach umbrellas, bikinis and boardwalk.
But after two beautiful days, the holiday weather took a Jekyll-and-Hyde turn.
Sunday night brought rain and temperatures dropping into the 50s. The unseasonably cool weather continued yesterday.
It sent the crowds packing early.
"We had several storms come through [Sunday] night," said Cpl. Gary Stickles of the Salisbury state police barracks.
"The cold, rainy weather started an early exodus."
Ocean City's beaches were deserted yesterday, although the Beach Patrol continued to man lifeguard stands along the 10-mile shoreline -- in case anyone was bold enough to venture into the chilly surf.
"It's dead," said Rick Smith, rides manager of Pier Rides, off the Boardwalk at Wicomico Street, where business fell off about 8 p.m. Sunday with the storms' arrival.
"There's been a few stragglers on the Boardwalk, but that's about it."
Resort officials expected 300,000 visitors during the weekend. City Manager Dennis W. Dare said firm numbers wouldn't be available until demo-flush figures -- which relate sewage flow to population size -- are calculated.
Although many fled the seaside early, traffic jams developed on Md. 404 -- a popular route for vacationers at Delaware resorts -- and U.S. 50/301 near Denton.
Highway officials said traffic had backed up eight miles from the intersection of Md. 404 and U.S. 50, and reported a "rolling backup" of 12 miles from the junction of 50 and 301.
But no trouble was reported at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge where tolls are no longer collected from westbound motorists, or at Kent Narrows where the old traffic-halting drawbridge was replaced by a tall span last year.
By late afternoon, more than 20,000 cars had crossed the Bay Bridge, with state highway supervisors reporting a traffic flow of 3,800 to 4,000 vehicles an hour.
At home, the returning vacationers found weather conditions little different from the chill they had fled.
Temperatures in Baltimore bottomed out early yesterday at 44 degrees -- a degree shy of the 1956 record low for the date -- and rose only to the mid-50s. Cool temperatures and more rain were forecast for the area today.
Police said two people killed in traffic accidents Saturday were the only highway deaths reported in Maryland, making this Memorial Day weekend the safest in recent years.
Last year's holiday was marred by seven traffic deaths and five drownings.