Storm brings mostly rain

January 05, 1994|By David Michael Ettlin | David Michael Ettlin,Staff Writer

For most of Maryland, a big soaking and a little icing were the calling cards delivered yesterday by a powerful winter storm that lashed the East Coast and buried the central Appalachians and upper Ohio Valley in heavy snow.

Call it a near miss for metropolitan Baltimore and nearly a bull's eye for National Weather Service forecasts that called for heavy snow in Western Maryland, a glancing blow of mixed precipitation in the central part of the state and heavy rain on the coast.

Icy roads prompted the closing of schools in eight counties and an apparent mistake in communications by the Mass Transit Administration over the status of Baltimore's school system resulted in bus delays for many city students.

Garrett County, with the highest elevations and coldest temperatures in Maryland, had close to a foot and a half of snow by nightfall and near blizzard conditions as winds gusted to 25 mph, authorities said.

But a state highway spokesman at Keysers Ridge (elevation about 2,980 feet, snow depth 17 inches) said main roads were passable.

Snow amounts diminished to the east, with 8 to 12 inches in Allegany County, 6 inches in Washington County, and 2 to 4 reported in Frederick and Carroll.

In the Baltimore area and northeastern counties, snow amounts were generally less than an inch, but highway crews had to use tons of salt to keep roads from freezing.

Rain and sleet fell for much of the day as temperatures stayed close to the 32-degree freezing point all day, and the problem worsened last night as the mercury dipped into the 20s.

From the time rain began falling at Baltimore-Washington International Airport about 10 p.m. Monday and its ending at 4:45 p.m. yesterday, meteorologists measured .56 inches of precipitation -- with a snowfall that amounted to little more than a dusting.

Close to an inch of rain was reported in some areas, and wind gusts reaching nearly 50 mph hit Ocean City shortly before sunrise. The wind toppled a light pole in the inlet parking area and high tides flooded some downtown streets, but the storm seemed to leave the resort's beaches intact.

"The beach looks like it's in good shape," said Clay Stamp, the town emergency operations coordinator.

In the metropolitan area, schools were closed in Carroll, Harford, Howard and Baltimore counties. Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County schools remained open.

Icy roads complicated travel, slowing traffic and contributing to mostly minor accidents. Weather-related problems in the Northeast delayed trains and prompted the cancellation of flights. BWI remained open, and flights to and from Southern destinations were mostly on schedule, a spokeswoman said.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. said 8,980 of its Central Maryland customers had lost power -- most of them because of trees or branches falling on power lines. The largest single outage occurred in Arundel County, when a tree brought down several wires and blacked out 600 homes in Davidsonville, said company spokesman Arthur J. Slusark.

In northern Frederick County, Cunningham Falls State Park had 4 to 6 inches of snow -- ideal for cross-country skiing. The park's Manor Area was open, but only for sledding. The rest of the park was closed, like others in Western Maryland, because of road conditions.

That didn't stop the phone from ringing at River & Trail Outfitters, a cross-country ski company in the southwestern Frederick town of Knoxville. "As soon as the snow hits the metropolitan areas, we start getting phone calls, especially on a day like today. It's beautiful out there," said Melanie Byers, an employee.

The decision to close schools was made incrementally in Carroll County, where officials had dismissed students an hour early -- and hours before the storm's arrival -- on Monday.

Carroll school officials initially announced a two-hour delay at 5:30 a.m., but at 7:10 a.m., Superintendent R. Edward Shilling decided to close schools for the entire day.

"There was no snow at all [at 7 a.m.], but the roads were very icy," said James Doolan, supervisor of transportation for the schools. "It was sleeting severely all morning long. Plus, we knew snow was coming on top of it. And boy, it did."

Likewise, Harford County school officials progressed from delay to closing -- and many children were clearly happy about it.

At Bakerfield Elementary School in Aberdeen, the weather watch began Monday as children kept asking assistant principal Nancy DTC J. Feeney if it had started to snow. They awakened yesterday to the joyful sight of big, fat flakes and news of the school year's first snow holiday.

"It didn't break my heart at all to stay home with the kids," said Richard Abell, a construction superintendent from Abingdon who went sledding with his school-age children on the slope at William S. James Elementary School.

Enjoy it while it lasts. The next storm is expected tomorrow night, and the forecast is for rain.

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