Wet, white, windy

March 03, 1994|By David Michael Ettlin | David Michael Ettlin,Sun Staff Writer

A messy March lion of a storm soaked Maryland yesterday with snow, sleet and cold rain, adding to the misery and cost of an all-too-icy winter.

The coastal storm dropped 2 to 5 inches of snow in the Baltimore area before changing to rain in the late morning, but brought close to a foot of snow to Western Maryland, where more was expected to fall overnight.

Heavy rain and sleet -- including lightning storms -- continued last night and combined with winds of 26 to 43 mph to knock out electrical power to more than 81,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers in the course of the storm.

Nearly 2.5 inches of precipitation -- mostly in the form of rain -- fell at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, more than half of it between 7 p.m. and midnight. The storm accounted for more than a fifth of all precipitation there since Jan. 1.

On the Eastern Shore, there also was mostly heavy rain -- and for Ocean City, the National Weather Service warned that "significant beach erosion and moderate to heavy flooding" were possible through this morning because of the storm, strong winds and already-high tides.

For most of the day, the dividing line between ice and rain sliced across metropolitan Baltimore, where temperatures rose slowly from 28 to 33 degrees -- just past the freezing point -- and then held steady through the late afternoon and evening. Temperatures were slightly colder at higher elevations to the west, and the result was heavier accumulations of sleet and snow.

Schools were closed in 19 of the state's 23 counties, adding another bad-weather day to classroom calendars that have been extended into late June already. In Baltimore, to the dismay of some parents, schools were open -- but just for a half-day, with meetings scheduled for teachers in the afternoon.

Coming near the end of the costliest winter in a decade -- in ice damage, salt purchases and manpower for clearing roads -- the storm forced the State Highway Administration and local public works agencies to mobilize thousands of workers, salt trucks and plows.

The SHA alone dispatched 1,300 people and nearly 1,000 pieces of equipment to treat slushy and icy highways. The worst problems were reported on the Northwest Expressway, Interstate 70 and Interstate 270 west of the city.

With salt reserves at 15 percent of capacity, SHA crews mixed salt with abrasives such as sand. The recipe varied: Areas with more ice received higher doses of salt.

"It's not as bad as the last storm, when we were down to less than 10 percent of the normal supply," said Liz Kalinowski, an SHA spokeswoman. "But we want to make sure we have enough salt on hand to treat any serious problems."

Maryland police departments said ice, slush and water on highways caused many accidents, and one fatality -- an accident last night on Interstate 95 near Havre de Grace that claimed the life of an 80-year-old woman from Hallandale, Fla.

State police at the John F. Kennedy barrack on I-95 said the victim, whose name was withheld pending notification of relatives, was a passenger in a northbound Ford Aerostar van that crashed into a snowy embankment when the driver lost control in high wind and icy conditions. The driver and two passengers were being treated for minor injuries at Harford Memorial Hospital, police said.

Light-rail trains ran without incident, a contrast to some previous storms that froze overhead power lines and shut down the system. No storm-related delays were reported on Metro or on Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) and Amtrak trains.

At Baltimore-Washington International Airport, snow and slush caused delays as workers plowed runways and de-iced planes. The two jet runways were closed for nearly 1 1/2 hours in late afternoon, a spokeswoman said.

At BWI, the National Weather Service office measured 3 inches of snow, bringing the season total to 16.5 inches -- short of the 20.5-inch average for an entire winter in the Baltimore area. In several earlier storms, ice was more of a problem than snow.

In mountainous Garrett County, the storm pushed the snowfall total close to 130 inches since the first snow in October.

"We haven't gotten the worst yet," said Drew Sheally, an emergency dispatcher with Garrett Fire and Rescue Communications in Oakland. "The weather service said this storm will be similar to the storm in 1993 when we got 36 inches."

"People are just acting like they expect a big storm," said Bea Crosco, a National Weather Service observer in Oakland. "Oil trucks are bustling around here. Grocery stores were busy this morning with people trying to get in there and get necessities."

On the other side of Maryland, Ocean City escaped the snow as temperatures bottomed out at 34 degrees. But the resort, along with the Lower Shore area, was drenched by wind-blown rain. Forecasts called for northeast winds of 35 to 50 knots overnight, with exceptionally high tides -- as are usual when the moon begins waning -- and the greatest danger of beach erosion at 11:11 last night and 11:33 this morning.

The winds picked up in strength last night as the deepening storm system moved northeast toward the Delmarva Peninsula.

The effects were felt most by people losing their electricity as power lines fell and feeder systems blew.

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