Blanket of fog trails snowstorm

CLOUDS ON THE GROUND

February 17, 1993|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,Staff Writer Staff writer David Michael Ettlin contributed to this article.

Sam Spade might materialize out of San Francisco's fog to inspect a body sprawled in an alley. Sherlock Holmes could lecture Dr. Watson on the finer points of a case as they bounced in a carriage through London's mists.

But dense fog in Baltimore, hon? That's not our cup of pea soup.

Still, it was fog that crept in after a snowstorm that failed to deliver as much punch -- or inches -- as predicted in the Baltimore area.

Not that the snow wasn't a problem for some Marylanders. Six inches fell in the state's westernmost counties of Garrett and Allegany; 4 to 6 inches in Washington, Frederick and Carroll counties; 1 to 3 inches in Howard, Harford and Cecil counties to the northeast; and as much as 3 inches in western and northern Baltimore County.

Elsewhere -- in Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County, Southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore -- there was less than an inch before the snow changed to rain.

There was enough snow -- at least in the opinion of school superintendents -- to give students an unplanned extension of the Presidents' Day holiday in Allegany, Baltimore, Carroll, Cecil, Frederick, Garrett, Howard and Washington counties.

And it gave more than a thousand highway workers across the state a chance to rev up the engines of their dump trucks and plows, and spread tons of salt along major roadways.

By afternoon, though, fog was becoming more of a problem than snow in many areas.

Amet Figueroa, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said visibility dwindled to less than a quarter mile at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and through much of the metropolitan area.

In 1992, the airport saw such dense fog 20 times. In 1991, quarter-mile visibility fog wrapped the region only 11 times.

Even rarer in the Land of Pleasant Living (aka Maryland) are the spookier, can't-see-the-hand-in-front-your-face fogs. The airport had only 29 hours of fog that reduced visibility to an eighth-mile or less last year, Mr. Figueroa said.

On a clear day, Maryland meteorologists can see 20 miles or more.

PD "What we're having now is a warm front that's trying to struggle

northward over the cold damp area now pretty well fixed over the region," he said. "The warm air flowing over the cool surface air is creating this fog."

Air temperatures in the upper 30s and low 40s collided with ground temperatures near freezing, because of the slush and snow left over from yesterday's storm. As the ground cooled the air, the air lost its ability to hold as much moisture. So some moisture turned into droplets.

Meteorologists call this advection fog, which usually occurs in winter in Maryland.

The other main type of fog is called radiation fog. That's where warm days give way to cool, windless nights. As the temperature falls to the dew point, water latent in the atmosphere turns into fog.

All fog is, of course, nothing more than ground-hugging clouds.

Valerie Burnette of the State Highway Administration said the fog didn't create major traffic headaches, although it slowed things somewhat. She advised motorists caught in thick patches to steer by the white line along the right-hand side of the road.

The fog was expected to vanish overnight, followed by partly sunny skies and temperatures in the low 40s today.

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