Flurry up and wait Snow: Yesterday's piddling 0.3 inches did not stick, but the memory of last winter did, and anxiety is starting to accumulate.

November 15, 1996|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF Staff writer Ken Fuson contributed to this report.

It was, the National Weather Service said, a snowfall "hardly worth mentioning." A microscopic 0.3 inches. That is, almost nothing.

But don't try to tell that to Baltimoreans who survived the Big Snow of '95-'96. The season's first few pitiful snowflakes yesterday sent many scurrying for snow blowers, for shovels, for all-weather tires, for trips to the Caribbean.

"Even this little bit of snow sends people to the phone panicked that they're going to be stuck in Baltimore for the winter," said Judy Lurie, a consultant at Roland Park Travel.

"People are planning for January and February with a flurry," she says. "They're seeking warm-weather retreats. The rush is on for the Caribbean."

Lurie is recommending Puerto Vallarta, "the last best bargain in North America."

But unless you're willing to pay first-class fare, plan on enjoying a white Christmas. Economy fares have been sold out since June. If you hurry, you might find flights for Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. Or Presidents Day weekend.

Not to worry. Those of us wintering instead in say, Dundalk, are probably better prepared psychologically for our fate. Last year's blizzard apparently still concentrates the mind.

Snow tools have been flying out the door since August, says Mike Wells, assistant manager of the White Marsh Home Depot.

"People are getting ahead of the curve on snow shovels," he said. He's sold almost 400 already.

If you want something with a little more muscle, though, you'd better get on the phone. Snow blowers are going faster than airline tickets.

"We're selling every snow blower we can get our hands on," Wells said. "More already than all last season. We've had people fighting over snow blowers."

The problem is supply, he said. The factories are now making garden tractors and lawn mowers. They've already made all the snow blowers they're going to make.

This affords a certain status to those who have one. Something like: "Ha, ha, ha! I have my snow blower and you can't get one."

"They're like gold again," Wells said. "People call every day asking if they're in."

Each new shipment usually lasts only a day or so, even at $650 to $1,200 a pop.

"It's one of those things you know you're going to sell," Wells said. "It's a lot of fun."

Not everyone is having such fun. At the Target store in Columbia Corners, Sally Williams, who moved north from Texas just six months ago, was worried.

"People are still talking about last year's blizzard," she said. "I'm scared we're going to have to go through that again."

Her shopping cart was full of winter clothes, ice scrapers, a big blue snow shovel. Next stop: boots for her son, Dulaney, 4. He'd never seen snow before yesterday.

"He woke up this morning and wanted to make a snowman," Williams said.

The kids at Columbia's Jeffers Hill Elementary School were excited, too, said Linda Mathias, a school secretary.

"They were jumping up and down," she said. "They were hollering 'It's snow, it's snow!' "

On the slick city streets, most were taking the snowfall in stride.

"Traffic ran smoothly," said Kurt Kocher, the Department of Public Works spokesman. "I didn't hear of any problems."

If he had, DPW would have been ready. Last winter was a "learning experience," Kocher said. No matter what happens this year, the city is "very well prepared."

And getting almost as technologically adept as a 9-year-old with a Nintendo game.

Since last winter, DPW has added computers to generate maps to plan routes, improve communications, even to put a snow page at www.396.snow.com on the Internet.

Four new weather sensors throughout the city feed information into the DPW's storm center. The sensors register such things as wind speed and air, surface and sub-surface temperatures. For example, the sub-surface temperature during yesterday's snow showers was 49 degrees.

Ergo, "no need to salt," Kocher said.

But more traditional solutions are also being prepared: 300 snow removal workers are ready for 24-hour service; 17,000 tons of salt have been stocked, with another 34,000 tons committed if needed; 192 salt trucks are equipped with plows and spreaders; another 47 four-wheel drive vehicles can be outfitted with plows if needed; every city vehicle has chains and backup; emergency snow route signs have been replaced.

"We're just prepared for whatever nature throws at us," said a very confident Kocher.

Which is perhaps a prediction a little easier to make when the snow is melting as it lands than when it's stacked up a foot or two.

Pub Date: 11/15/96

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