In a storm that amazed weather experts, snow and heavy sleet covered nearly all of Maryland yesterday, closing schools, government offices and businesses as salt-short highway workers tried to keep roads passable.
"I think we'd seen about everything this winter, and then you get dumped on with 4 inches of sleet," said National Weather Service forecaster Ken Shaver. "What's next?"
"Four inches of sleet accumulation -- you never see that," said Fred Davis, chief meteorologist for the Weather Service's regional office at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. "This winter is relentless. It just keeps coming."
Up to 8 inches of snow fell in Western Maryland, 7 inches in northern Baltimore County and slightly less in the city's northern and western suburbs -- and a mixture with heavy sleet and freezing rain in areas to the south and east. The Lower Shore saw mostly rain.
But Mr. Davis said that the worst was over. The forecast was for a chance of a little freezing drizzle through tomorrow morning and, after the passage of a "benevolent frontal system," temperatures rising into the mid-40s tomorrow.
There was no other hint of ice in the forecast through Wednesday -- which will come as a relief to the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. Since Wednesday, said spokeswoman Peggy Mulloy, ice problems have knocked out power to nearly 100,000 customers.
Southern Anne Arundel County had the worst problems, with yesterday's heavy sleet continuing a buildup of ice, snapping tree limbs and power lines. More than 9,000 BG&E customers lacked electricity in that area late last night.
"It's been something seeing tree limbs on wires and trees splitting in half, even big old oak trees," said Pat Shenton, who lives on Masons Beach Road in the southern Arundel community of Deale.
Despite critical shortages of road salt, periods of sleet and heavy snow and a growing accumulation of slush on major highways in Central Maryland, police said accidents were less serious and less frequent yesterday than in other recent storms. But there were still plenty of them.
The shutdown or early closing of businesses and federal, state and county agencies, and the repeated warnings about dangerous road conditions apparently were responsible for keeping traffic on the Baltimore Beltway down to about one-quarter the usual volume.
Some of those venturing onto the highways seemed oblivious to the dangers, however, said Patricia Murawski, the State Highway Administration's supervisor of emergency patrols around the Beltway, Interstate 95 and Interstate 83. She saw motorists speeding, spinning out, running off the road, cutting other drivers off and several who flipped over.
The ice was treacherous.
Rob Neighbour, a USAir pilot returning from Los Angeles, where he had been a volunteer Red Cross shelter manager for earthquake victims, was driving to Baltimore from BWI yesterday afternoon when he saw a Dodge minivan roll over. Several cars stopped, and drivers ran to the rescue of the occupants.
Inside, strapped to their seats, were a woman, her mother and four children. The woman passed the keys to Mr. Neighbour, who said he opened the door and started passing the children out of the van. "The kids were crying, but everyone was in good shape," he said.
Salt supply dwindles
The SHA, which had dispatched 1,218 pieces of equipment and 1,671 employees to combat the storm by late afternoon, said that its critically low salt supply had dwindled further as workers mixed salt with abrasives to stretch out what remained.
"The salt supply is holding up because we've been mixing it and we've gotten a couple thousand tons in shipments," said Valerie Burnette, an SHA spokeswoman. Officials estimated the remaining salt at 12,000 to 15,000 tons -- about half of what is needed for a major storm.
In mountainous Garrett County, where about 500 homes and businesses remained without electrical power after an ice storm downed trees and power lines Tuesday, heavy snow was a welcome change -- almost a return to normal.
"That's where we're fortunate," said Byron Miller, a county emergency dispatcher. "We're generally prepared for this kind of thing and can handle the snow without too much trouble. Everything here doesn't come to a complete stop."
In Carroll County, snow was also a relief to Donald A. Gross, Westminster's beleaguered streets supervisor. "This storm today is a paradise to us, because you can move it," Mr. Gross said -- before the storm's other boot dropped with a topping of sleet and freezing rain in late afternoon.
Road crews weren't the only people working extra hours or extra hard because of ice and snow. The emergency room at Carroll County Hospital reported more than 100 incoming patients a day Thursday and yesterday -- most of them injured in falls on icy sidewalks, driveways and parking lots.
For Gerry Herman in Harford County, slippery conditions were not all bad. It was a perfect day for him to ski -- in the street.