New blast of cold promises more misery

January 18, 1994|By David Michael Ettlin | David Michael Ettlin,Staff Writer

After a nasty dose of snow, ice and rain, Marylanders can look forward to yet another winter unpleasantry this week -- and it may resemble permafrost.

Yesterday's heavy precipitation -- in many areas changing from snow to sleet and freezing rain, to rain and back to snow -- was likely to freeze solid on the ground as a new cold wave takes hold today, the National Weather Service said.

The storm had great contrasts: While Western Maryland lay buried yesterday evening under a foot or more of fresh snow, the Lower Shore had drizzle and temperatures of 45 to 50 degrees. In between, highways in Central Maryland were bathed in Slurpee-like slush.

In many areas, rain fell for part of the day despite subfreezing temperatures -- the result of warm air aloft. The rain turned to sleet as it dropped through colder air, and at times froze on contact with the cold ground.

Rain also froze on tree limbs and power lines, causing blackouts for thousands of people. In the Baltimore area, 25,600 homes and businesses had been affected by midnight -- close to two-thirds of them in Anne Arundel County.

Power restoration was slowed by road conditions. "It's so icy, the trucks can't get to the sites quickly," said Peggy Mulloy, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.

Baltimore public works crews, weary from an all-day battle to keep roads open, began tackling frozen storm drains as heavy rain with no place to run off formed ponds in traffic lanes. The water was several inches deep along parts of the Jones Falls Expressway, prompting a temporary closing of the northbound lanes about midnight.

Icy conditions shut down Baltimore-Washington International Airport for the night at 5:15 p.m., stranding travelers as the

Martin Luther King holiday weekend drew to a close.

Numerous accidents were reported, one of them in Baltimore proving fatal. Police said a car driven by 80-year-old David Pitts skidded on slush and crashed into a light pole in the 3400 block of Hillen Road. Mr. Pitts died last night at Johns Hopkins Hospital. His wife, Portia, 74, was listed in good condition at Union Memorial Hospital.

Traffic around the Baltimore Beltway often slowed to a crawl, but Baltimore County police reported no serious accidents -- and were thankful that the holiday allowed many people to stay home.

But it was as much the weather as the holiday that shut down most activities, particularly in the state's westernmost counties, Garrett and Allegany.

"It's terrible out there," said Sgt. Michael Mattingly at the Cumberland state police barracks. "It's snowed so hard here that the plows can't keep up with it."

By late last night, Allegany and Garrett had 14 inches of new snow on the ground, and Washington County had 18 inches, according to the State Highway Administration.

"We got dumped on," said Bea Crosco, a National Weather Service observer in mountainous Garrett, which has received more than 50 inches of snow since October.

Many shopping malls were deserted, although video stores reported heavy business.

At the Hickory Ridge Village Center in Columbia, the selection of milk and bread at the Giant supermarket was better than the selection of movies at the nearby Blockbuster video store. Many new videos were nearly wiped out, but there were still copies of "Alive" -- the story of a rugby team stranded by a plane crash in the snowy Andes Mountains.

Despite the day being a federal holiday, some state and local government functions conducted business as usual -- or attempted to.

Maryland courts, which had closed on Friday, were open -- but in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County, personnel found offices flooded after water pipes burst. The weekend's cold temperatures were blamed for the plumbing disasters.

Joseph H. H. Kaplan, administrative judge of Baltimore's Circuit Court, said a building vent had frozen open, allowing outside air into the building and causing the water in the fifth-floor pipe to freeze and the pipe to burst.

The building's heating system, which uses water, had to be turned off, causing indoor temperatures to plunge. Among those caught in the cold courthouse was Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who was on jury duty. The mayor wore an overcoat while waiting in the jury assembly room.

In the city, schools also were open -- but snow and ice prompted Superintendent Walter G. Amprey to order an early closing. The decision made at 10 a.m. proved short-lived, however. Twenty minutes later, after finding out that buses could not pick up students early on short notice, Dr. Amprey changed his mind.

"Ah, the weather, now that's a tough one," Dr. Amprey said, laughing. "Recognizing that we made a mistake, we went on to correct it as soon as possible."

Today's weather may pose a problem for school superintendents across Maryland, with another round of arctic temperatures likely to ice over any damp road surfaces.

Temperatures are expected to fall through the 20s during the day, drop into single digits late tonight and not reach the 30s again until Friday.

But no more precipitation is likely for the next few days, said Weather Service forecaster Ken Shaver, adding, "Don't you think we've suffered enough?"

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