Winter storm closes schools in 8 counties

January 04, 1994|By David Michael Ettlin and Gregory P. Kane | David Michael Ettlin and Gregory P. Kane,Staff Writers

Highway crews got a workout, and children in eight counties got a classroom reprieve as a multidimensional winter storm moved across Maryland today.

Schools in Harford, Baltimore, Howard, Cecil, Frederick, Carroll, Montgomery and Washington counties closed when snow followed sleet and freezing rain this morning.

The mixed weather made metropolitan-area roads in turn wet, crunchy, sometimes slick, and once traffic started moving and chemicals kicked in, slushy -- with lingering patches of ice.

"It was a mixed bag of precipitation," said Fred A. Davis, chief meteorologist at the regional National Weather Service office at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, with snow in Western Maryland, freezing rain, sleet and snow in the central Maryland, a snow-rain mix in Southern Maryland, and only rain on the Eastern Shore.

The snow accumulation in Baltimore totaled only about an inch, and the worst of the storm seemed to have passed by midmorning.

Valerie Burnette, spokesman for the State Highway Administration, said at midmorning that things "were looking fairly good" with the rush-hour out of the way. Most state-maintained highways in the metropolitan area were clear by then, she said.

Baltimore, Carroll, Howard, Harford and Frederick counties -- as well as Baltimore City -- all had Phase One of their snow emergency plans in effect early this morning. Snow tires, chains or approved radials must be on all vehicles traveling on city and county roads.

Heavy snow began falling about 7 o'clock last night in mountainous Garrett County, the state's westernmost region. By p.m., it had spread eastward into Allegany and Washington counties. Forecasters expected Garrettto receive up to 22 inches of snow before the storm ended.

By 8 a.m., sleet and rain in the metropolitan Baltimore area had switched to snow -- large, puffy flakes that affected travel visibility in some areas -- and roads were becoming covered, although salting efforts by road crews throughout the night were giving some early dividends.

Rush-hour traffic seemed to move, although more slowly than usual, in most parts of the metropolitan area.

Some working parents, no doubt, would be complaining during the day about relatively late changes in plans for closing area schools. Early risers in some metropolitan jurisdictions awakened plans for opening schools two hours later than normal, but by 7:30 or 8 a.m., those announcements had changed to closings for the entire day.

Mr. Davis said of the storm's diversity: "It's almost like three different forecasts in this state."

The mid-Atlantic region mystery -- one repeated every winter -- is where temperatures will stay below freezing, where they will move up and down, and where they will stay above 32 degrees.

"You don't have a clear-cut situation like our friends in Minnesota," Mr. Davis said.

He had cautioned in his forecast that a more easterly track along the coast would draw colder temperatures farther to the south and east and "appreciably" increase snow amounts for Central Maryland, including the Baltimore and Washington metro areas. But that apparently did not occur.

The biggest problems for most Marylanders yesterday were the waiting and the precautions. Schools closed two hours early in Washington County, and an hour early in Frederick and Carroll -- in the latter long before any precipitation had fallen.

"We've got everything ready for another blast," said Paul McIntyre, a maintenance engineer for the State Highway Administration in snowy Garrett County.

Officials there, he said, were preparing for their 16th winter storm. About 50 inches of snow have fallen this winter season -- which in reality begins around October there.

"Wait -- that's about all we can do," said John Weisenmiller, Allegany's superintendent of roads.

"If we get what they're calling for, it could be real nasty here. All these other storms were just warm-ups."

Baltimore County had its 163 trucks ready to go by early afternoon. "Everyone is in, the salt domes are full, and we're ready to work all night to keep the roads clear," said Dick Moore of the county's Highway and Traffic Department.

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