A mammoth winter storm delivered a paralyzing punch of snow and ice to much of Maryland yesterday and soaked the Eastern Shore with heavy rain before moving on to the Northeast.
The Blizzard of '93 shut down shopping malls and airports, closed major highways and knocked out electricity to more than 100,000 homes as high winds played havoc with tree limbs and power lines.
But by late last night, no loss of life had been reported here from a storm described as "a killer" more than a day before it arrived. The storm's center passed over the Chesapeake Bay's eastern shore about 7 p.m.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer declared a state of emergency at 9 p.m. -- a legal formality allowing him to ask for help from the Maryland Army National Guard, which had small groups of soldiers on standby alert at armories across the state.
Col. Howard Freedlander, Guard spokesman, said eight soldiers from battalions based at the Hagerstown armory would be driving State Police troopers in Humvee utility vehicles to help search for the dozens of motorists believed to be stranded in hard-hit Frederick and Washington counties.
Blizzard conditions -- winds exceeding 35 mph blowing the snow and reducing visibility to less than 500 feet -- forced the closings of all U.S. and state highways west of Frederick at 8 p.m. Major roads also were shut down in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
"There are tractor trailers and cars sitting everywhere," said Sgt. Virginia Lewis. "There's drifting snow and bad winds. Apparently, it doesn't do any good to tell people to stay off the roads."
Traffic was light and accidents few throughout the storm -- thanks in part to the timing of the snow, which began falling late Friday, and a public that largely heeded repeated warnings to stay home this weekend because of the anticipated hazardous weather.
In Garrett County, always far-Western Maryland's winter wonderland, a sheriff's department spokesman said about 18 inches of snow had fallen by dinner time yesterday -- on top of a foot already on the ground. More was expected today.
Power knocked out
By late last night, more than 110,100 homes and businesses of Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.'s million-customer Central Maryland system had lost power, and wind gusts of 35 to 50 mph were
possible through early today.
"We've had conditions where we'll make a fix and, literally, another tree limb will come down and knock the same wire out of service," said company spokesman Karl Neddenien.
The storm system developed in the western Gulf of Mexico, moved across Georgia and turned north on an inland course rather than a feared Atlantic coastal route. The result was slightly warmer air, causing a temporary change from snow to sleet or rain from Baltimore eastward and slightly less accumulations.
With a coastal route, snow amounts might have been 8 to 10 inches higher, said National Weather Service forecaster Ken Shaver.
Not that there was a shortage of snow, with reported amounts in the Baltimore area by 10 p.m. ranging from 10.6 inches at the airport to 16.7 inches at Owings Mills -- where a thunderstorm burst added to the count, and sleet compressed it back to about 15 inches.
Carroll County had a foot or more of snow. Weather observers and monitors there and at Martin State Airport in Essex reported wind gusts reaching 70 mph.
Record low pressure
Barometric pressure dropped at 6:20 p.m. to 28.51 inches of mercury -- the lowest ever recorded in the Baltimore area and a measure of the storm's ferocity.
The storm all but halted Amtrak rail service west of Baltimore and delayed most trains along the Northeast Corridor by about two hours as maximum speeds were reduced from 100 mph to 65 mph because of high wind, said spokesman Cliff Black.
Greyhound halted bus service, and the airport shut down.
Adrienne Walker-Pittman, a BWI spokeswoman, said airlines decided unanimously to halt all flights, mainly because of high winds and snow falling so heavily on the runways that plows couldn't keep up with it.
The closure left thousands of passengers stranded and fighting for hotel rooms at nearby hotels. Buses from BWI to Annapolis and Washington were canceled. Taxi service was limited and hotel shuttle vans operated sporadically.
At noon, the Mass Transit Administration limited bus service in the Baltimore area to major routes, then halted it at 4 p.m. because of hazardous roads and low ridership, said spokesman Frank Starr, adding that the decision on Sunday operations would be made early today.
Metro and light-rail service were to close an hour early, at 11 p.m., and trains ran less frequently -- also because of the dearth of riders.
Events of all sorts were canceled, including today's annual St. Patrick's Parade. "The luck of the Irish was not with us," said parade chairman James C. Jones, noting that it was only the second cancellation in 39 years and hoping for better luck in 1994.
Catholics can skip Mass