Marylanders still grappling with the towering remains of Sunday's big snowstorm braced today for a major new storm gathering in the deep South.
By tomorrow night, the National Weather Service said, there may be 8 to 16 inches of new snow in the Baltimore area, with less to the south and east where a changeover to rain is possible. As much as 1 to 2 feet could accumulate north and west of Baltimore and Washington, where the precipitation will remain all snow.
Winter storm watches were posted for Maryland, Delaware, southeastern Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.
Where snow becomes mixed with or changes to rain, the weather service warned, the weight of the new moisture on top of snows left by the last storm could produce structural collapses.
The new forecast came as a cruel blow to Baltimore area residents and highway crews who are still shoveling, digging and plowing in the wake of Sunday's 22-inch storm and Tuesday's 4-incher.
"We have to condition ourselves that this thing's not going to be over tomorrow," said city Public Works Director George G. Balog. Only 25 percent of Baltimore's side streets had been cleared by yesterday afternoon, but most main roads were open.
At the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, officials were organizing yesterday for another siege. "We've gotten the [forecast] and we're scaling back tonight to rest up for a long weekend of dealing with this storm," said agency spokeswoman Jennifer Mann.
MEMA Director David McMillion advised Marylanders to "try to get stocked up [today] because we'll have another couple of days where people will probably be encouraged to stay off the roads."
State officials were scheduled to gather at the Pikesville command center this morning to begin coordinating efforts to cope with the new snow. They also planned a 9 a.m. conference call with the weather service.
State officials, who estimate the cost of Sunday's storm at $48 million, have made a request for federal disaster assistance, Leonard A. Sipes Jr., spokesman for MEMA, said last night. The state could be reimbursed up to 75 percent of that cost, with the amount determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"This is the equivalent of being in California and being hit with an earthquake, or in Miami by a hurricane," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat.
A federal disaster designation would make available low-cost loans to key businesses and reimbursement for snow removal expenditures. The senator said she would also seek money to help rebuild public infrastructure.
Although sunshine and salt began to do their work yesterday, local roads and many city streets remained constricted. Many residential neighborhoods were still waiting for plows, and snow drifts up to 10 feet high were slowing the plows in rural Baltimore and Harford counties.
Major school systems and government offices across Maryland remained closed. State and federal agencies were expected to reopen today, but most school systems said they would remain closed through Monday -- Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.
Baltimore County cleared more urban streets, but also designated Cockeysville, Arbutus and Stemmers Run middle schools as temporary storm shelters for families.
Snow accumulations in January have already reached 26.6 inches at the airport. A mere 4.8 inches of new snow tomorrow would make January 1996 the snowiest on record in Baltimore, topping the 31.3 inches that fell in January 1922. The average snow total for an entire January at BWI is 5.6 inches.
Sunday's 22-inch snowstorm delivered more snow at BWI than the average accumulation for an entire season -- 21.7 inches.
The weather service said the new storm should develop across the deep South late today. Snow was expected to begin across southwestern Virginia tonight, and spread toward the Northeast overnight.
That would mean light snowfall -- less than 4 inches in weather service parlance -- from Baltimore through Richmond by dawn tomorrow. The snowfall would then intensify during the day tomorrow. Precipitation would end across the area tomorrow night.
The official forecast said warmer air drawn in ahead of the storm could cause snow to mix with or change to mixed precipitation across the District of Columbia and Maryland east of the mountains. To the west, it would continue to fall as snow.
The new storm is following the same track as the Sunday snowstorm. But other factors that converged to produce Sunday's historic snowfall are not present this time, said Todd Miner, a meteorologist with the Weather Communications Group at Pennsylvania State University.
Both storms have been energized and steered by an unusually powerful upper-level jet stream that is flowing at 140 to 170 miles per hour down through the Plains states, across the South, and then up the East Coast.
"With the lows positioned off the mid-Atlantic coast, and with their counter-clockwise wind flow, they are able to draw moisture north and west into the mid-Atlantic states," he said.