Tricky storm brings snow, sleet and rain

January 04, 1994|By David Michael Ettlin | David Michael Ettlin,Staff Writer

Highway crews got out plows for the roads and children got up their hopes for a classroom reprieve last night as a major winter storm moved toward Maryland.

And the weatherman? He drew in a deep breath -- one big enough for three dramatically different forecasts calling for heavy snow, a glaze of sleet and freezing rain, and just rain.

By midnight, the forecasts all were coming to pass.

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. Sleet was reported in Carroll County, and rain was moving across Annapolis and much of metropolitan Baltimore.

But what people will find as they awaken today depends on where they live, the temperature and the track taken by the storm, which was moving northward from the gulf states. It was expected to follow a track between Richmond and Norfolk, Va., reaching the lower Delaware Bay near 7 a.m. today and New England tonight.

The most likely result will be a lot of snow in Western Maryland -- 1 to 2 feet in Garrett, 12 to 18 inches in Allegany and Washington counties -- and 4 to 8 inches in Frederick and Carroll counties.

An inch or two of frozen precipitation, snow topped by or combined with sleet and freezing rain, was possible for the Baltimore area. But Annapolis was expected to receive little or no accumulation, while Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore mostly rain.

Northeaster conditions and beach erosion were predicted for Ocean City.

"It's almost like three different forecasts in this state," said Fred A. Davis, chief meteorologist at the regional National Weather Service office at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

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 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 "it appears that's not going to happen," he said.

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."

The story was much the same in Baltimore and in most counties across the state.

Shortly after 3 p.m., the SHA opened its Emergency Operations Center in Baltimore. Salt trucks were loaded and dispatched to strategic locations around the area, waiting for the first flakes or ice patches.

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.

Harford County's highways superintendent, Gerald M. Eller, said that the Department of Public Works has notified its full force of 155 workers to be on alert for round-the-clock duty on the county's 60 snow emergency routes.

Howard officials, with a fleet of 52 trucks to dump salt and cinders on the roads, said they were prepared for the worst -- but in no rush to get rolling.

A little to the south in Anne Arundel, assistant highways chief Dennis Ward said about 15 drivers had been assigned to salt trucks and posted at the county's five highway maintenance stations, and others were on stand-by status.

In Ocean City, Town Manager Dennis Dare said the resort beach was in good shape and should be able to withstand heavy surf.

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