Latest storm's sleet, lightning, winds cut power lines, force roads to close

March 04, 1994|By Donna E. Boller and Anne Haddad | Donna E. Boller and Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writers

Carroll's 14th snowstorm of the winter produced a wild night of sleet, lightning and gale-force winds late Wednesday and early yesterday.

"It was a good one," remarked National Weather Service observer Ray Muller, who clocked winds at 40 knots, the equivalent of 46 mph, at his Finksburg home.

The aftermath of the storm included widespread power outages; slippery roads, some littered with abandoned vehicles; another day of closed schools and canceled events; and more shoveling chores for winter-weary countians.

Mr. Muller said the storm didn't break any records and the barometric pressure didn't drop as low as during the storm of March 1993. But warm air one mile up and cold air on the surface produced thunderstorms across Maryland with dangerous cloud-to-ground lightning, he said.

The county emergency operations center did not report any fires caused by lightning.

In the 24 hours after the storm started at 7 a.m. Wednesday, Finksburg got 6.8 inches of snow and 3 inches of water (sleet and rain) that would have been 2 1/2 feet deep if it had fallen as snow, Mr. Muller said.

By yesterday morning, all roads were passable, even if some were snowy and icy, said Cpl. Kerry Anders of the state police.

However, police closed three roads for other reasons. Route 482, between Broadbeck Road and Route 30, and Cherry Tree Lane, between London Bridge Road and Klee Mill Road, were closed for downed electric wires. Route 91, between Route 30 and Route 140, was closed for a serious traffic accident.

Some 20 to 30 cars were abandoned overnight on roads around the county, Corporal Anders said.

Police were hoping the cars would be reclaimed promptly so snow plows could do a thorough job. Those that are not removed will be towed at the owner's expense, police said.

At 4 p.m. yesterday, Carroll County accounted for more than half of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers without power.

"Currently, we have 4,538 customers without power in the county," said spokesman Kevin Thornton. "Systemwide, the total 8,100."

Since 4 p.m. Wednesday, BG&E crews had dealt with 38,047 Carroll homes reporting outages. "Systemwide, we had 148,000 outages in our service area," Mr. Thornton said.

About 50 repair technicians were working in Carroll late yesterday.

"Reports of power outages dropped dramatically once the winds stopped," he said.

Potomac Edison had few problems in the Eastern Division that includes part of western Carroll County, said division manager Richard Roschli.

"We probably don't have even a dozen customers out of power in Carroll County," Mr. Roschli said. Those few were in Lisbon, New Windsor and Mount Airy, he said, adding that 35 to 45 customers in the division that includes parts of Howard, Frederick and Montgomery counties lost power from problems such as falling tree limbs.

County schools were closed yesterday for snow, the 13th day this year. Unless the Board of Education decides Wednesday to lengthen the school day, or asks the state for a waiver, the school year will extend to June 27 to make up the time.

In Westminster, city street superintendent Donald A. Gross said he could have done without the sleet.

"We had the town cleaned up around midnight, and then at 12:30 the storm came in and messed it all up again," he said. The 22 members of the streets crew, who had been about to go home after 20 1/2 hours on the job, climbed back into the trucks and worked through the night.

Clearing the streets was slow going because the mixture of freezing rain, sleet and snow is so heavy, Mr. Gross said. He said plows encountered drifts up to two feet high.

County roads workers also had to plow slowly because of the weight of the snow-sleet-rain and because high winds created drifts of three to four feet, said Benton Watson, chief of roads operations. He said the snow was deeper and the drifts higher in the north county.

The county crews quit for the night at 10 p.m. Wednesday after 18 hours on the job, then returned to the roads at 4 a.m. yesterday. Mr. Watson said he didn't keep the crews on the job all night because he anticipated they would have to work late last night.

"There comes a point where you have to get . . . some rest," he said.

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