9.8-inch snowfall breaks record Shoppers flood stores, children are fetched in yet another storm

February 17, 1996|By Will Englund | Will Englund,SUN STAFF

Anyone who thought people around here were getting accustomed to snow got a wind-whipped dose of reality yesterday. Throughout Central and Eastern Maryland, people quickly reverted to the usual panic as a storm swirled in with enough snow to set a new seasonal record.

Cars fishtailed, slip-sided and flipped entirely. Suburban schools shut down, and by midday parents in the city were fetching their children out of class. Businesses let out early. Supermarkets were jammed. Ski trips, bingo games and guided tours were canceled.

At BWI Airport, the accumulation of at least 9.8 inches pushed the winter season's total to 54.9, surpassing the previous record of 51.4 inches set in 1963-1964.

It is also greater than any other season's snowfall recorded in Baltimore going back to 1883, when regular record-keeping began.

Despite all the snow that has already gone before this year -- despite the January blizzard, despite the regular storms since then, despite the eight to 10 days of snow days already logged by most of the school systems in the area -- many people acted yesterday as they traditionally always do at the sight of fluffy winter weather.

They were fazed. They were non-plused. They were not nonchalant.

"It's still a big deal," said Maxine Bomer, who works at a Starbucks coffee shop on York Road just outside the city.

"It'll always be a big deal. You know, you got to get excited about something."

Won't condescend

Ms. Bomer hails from South Bend, Ind., where they know something about snow, but she refused to condescend to Baltimore.

"I'm a wimp when it comes to driving," she said. Of course, she has lived here four years already.

At the nearby Giant supermarket, a harried co-manager, Bob Kavalsky, said he didn't have five minutes to talk about the day, or four minutes, or even 2 1/2 .

"Extremely busy," he called out while reaching for a jangling telephone for what was clearly about the 8,000th time. "That's why I can't talk."

But two customers heading in for the proverbial milk and toilet paper caught something of a counter-mood that was blowing in along with the storm.

It's not that they're so hardened they can just ignore the snow, said Jane Bates and Dick Millen. It's that they've learned to enjoy the good things that come with it. They were panic buying, but with a good attitude.

"I think it's beautiful," said Ms. Bates, interrupting herself with laughter. "The spirits are higher. It's like, OK. People with a sense of humor are going with the flow."

"It's like leaning into the wind," said Mr. Millen. "I'm just enjoying it. Other people? I'm not watching them."

"We're watching the snow," said Ms. Bates, an art teacher at Towson State University.

Snow watchers in general were rewarded yesterday. Statues in Mount Vernon sported snowy accents, not the usual cap and epaulets but careful shadings along the ribs or down one leg, thanks to the north wind and the sticky snow.

Herring gulls circled low through the oaks of Roland Park, a neighborhood generally given over to crows and cardinals.

A woman at the corner of Light Street and Key Highway, her black coat brilliant against the smudgy gray background, brushed the snow away from the hatch of a blue mailbox, deliberately and precisely, before depositing her letters.

But all was not serenity.

Baltimore school officials said they were forced to keep schools open throughout the day, even as the storm was proving itself to be stronger than predicted, because bus drivers with the Mass Transit Administration were prevented by union rules from changing their schedules.

BWI closed, opened, and closed again for much of the day. Police reported dozens of minor accidents, principally in Howard County and the counties touching the Chesapeake Bay.

The snowy time of year is supposed to belong to children, but even good things have their limits.

"I'm kind of sick of it," said Katie Feit, 12, a seventh-grader at Dumbarton Middle School in the Towson area. "I don't want to go to school in the summer."

"I want it to go away," seconded her sister, Ashley, 8, a third-grader at Hampton Elementary.

The girls were shopping for birthday presents at the Borders book store in Towson.

Geoff Godfrey, the store's assistant manager, said that business was down (no panic buying of novels) but that the mood among the scarce customers was up.

"I think these are people who've reached a threshold," he said, "where it's no longer a headache."

The storm ruined plans by Baltimore County's student council leaders to testify on a school spending bill before two Senate committees in Annapolis.

Wound up in ditch

A bus trip was canceled, and, when two of the students, Rachel Brown and Aaron Beytin, tried to drive down on their own in Aaron's car, it ran into a ditch. No one was hurt, but the day was a washout.

At Fort McHenry, a couple of bus tours that were supposed to come by didn't appear, and as of noon, exactly zero Marylanders had made their way to the visitor center.

The only two people who had shown up were Roger and Marcia Savage, teachers from Columbus, Ohio, and who had just flown in for a convention. Their hotel wasn't ready to check them in. Gamely, they headed out to see Fort McHenry, but the historic bastion itself was closed to visitors because of slippery walkways.

Back at the Starbucks coffee shop, the flavor of the day was appropriately enough called Yukon Blend.

Manjit Kingra, who works alongside Ms. Bomer, said that she has lived in Baltimore two years, after growing up in western Massachusetts and that she didn't think people here have changed at all when it comes to winter storms.

"You still either love snow or you hate it. That's the bottom line," she said.

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