As another winter storm began moving across Maryland, state and school officials worried yesterday about a critical shortage of salt for highways and another day without classes for students.
The storm could be the worst this winter, with forecasts of up to half a foot of snow and ice for today's 11th anniversary of the 22.8-inch Blizzard of '83.
Light snow and sleet spread across metropolitan Baltimore between 9:30 and 11 o'clock last night, with the storm arriving before many had chipped away the remains of this year's fifth ice storm. Scores sought treatment in area hospitals yesterday for weather-related injuries.
Anne Arundel officials announced that schools will be closed today, and superintendents for other systems were watching the developing storm before making decisions. Schools throughout the Baltimore area were closed because of icy conditions yesterday -- for Harford County a record 11th day lost to weather this school year, topping the winter of 1983.
Baltimore Gas and Electric said about 12,000 customers -- most of them in the Annapolis area and southern Anne Arundel -- lacked power yesterday as a result of ice damage to lines. The county planned to open public shelters at Annapolis High School and the Deale fire station.
The National Weather Service predicted 1 to 3 inches would be on the ground by morning across much of the Eastern Shore, 2 to 5 inches at most locations west of the Chesapeake Bay and more snow likely before an expected change over to sleet and freezing rain.
"This will be a dangerous storm," said weather service forecaster Ken Shaver. "Precautions should be taken to protect life and property, and all unnecessary travel should be curtailed."
The storm warnings produced a rush to area grocery stores last night.
"You can't even get a cart," said Rob Schunck, a customer at the East Point Metro Food Market.
"What are they calling for -- 20 feet?" asked an incredulous clerk, Sandy Worthington. "People must think they're never going out again."
State Highway Administration officials expressed concern that major roads will be worse than motorists have encountered so far this winter.
Workers began mixing salt in a 4-to-1 ratio with abrasives, including sand, cinders and stone dust, yesterday to extend the supply. The agency had on hand less than one-tenth of its usual 200,000-ton inventory of salt -- with a typical ice storm requiring about 20,000 tons.
"We're in a very critical situation right now," said SHA spokesman Chuck Brown. "If we get hit with another ice storm, it could be very treacherous throughout the day."
Around the state, highway crews were gearing up for bad weather -- facing shortages of salt and strain on workers from battling the quick succession of storms.
"The employees are tired, there's no doubt about it," said George G. Balog, Baltimore's public works director, who was planning to have workers plowing and salting the city's 82 snow routes during morning and evening rush hours.
Mr. Balog said the city needs 800 to 1,000 tons of salt a day to keep roads passable, and had more than 2,000 tons on hand ZTC yesterday, with 4,000 more scheduled for delivery today.
By yesterday afternoon, Anne Arundel's Department of Public Works had nearly exhausted its road salt and planned to treat primary roads with sand and whatever salt remained, said Louise Hayman, a county spokeswoman.
The Mass Transit Administration restored light rail service after a one-day shutdown caused by ice accumulations on overhead power lines. Service from Camden Yards north resumed at 6 a.m.; service south began at 3:30 p.m.
The MTA planned to run 10 trains all night without passengers to try to keep overhead lines clear and had a diesel-powered train in reserve to help knock ice off wires.
A hint of the weather to come was evident across much of the nation as freezing rain and frigid air caused traffic snarls, closings and power outages from Texas to the Carolinas and up to New England.
The week's national total of weather-related deaths reached at least 23 yesterday when an air ambulance crashed on takeoff in freezing rain near San Antonio International Airport, killing two people and critically injuring a third. In Alabama, a driver lost control of his car on an icy highway and was killed.