Snow fear dissolves with rain

Mild air melts ice, bringsarea a springlike day

January 04, 1999|By Devon Spurgeon | Devon Spurgeon,SUN STAFF

Baltimore was poised for battle. An army of salt trucks stood ready to cruise the city's streets. Hot coffee brewed in police stations. Residents stockpiled bread, milk and toilet paper.

It was supposed to be a colossal mess, but the much-hyped ice storm ended up as a long night of rain.

As freezing rain coated streets with sheets of ice Saturday night, Marylanders went to bed with full refrigerators and piles of rented movies, prepared to be trapped at home. But they awoke yesterday to the sweet sound of traffic running smoothly. The bone-chilling cold -- with a high of 26 Saturday -- that came in with the New Year had given way to sunny skies and a springlike 54 degrees.

"I looked out and said, `These newscasters don't know what they are talking about,' " said Mike Saxton, an employee of WashWorks Car Wash at Howard and 21st streets, which was crowded with dirty cars yesterday afternoon. "The weather report got people all scared."

The brunt of the storm missed Baltimore, thanks to a low-pressure system that developed off the coast of Virginia and pushed warmer air into the Chesapeake Bay, according to the National Weather Service. By the time most of the precipitation reached the city, the temperature was above freezing. Rain pelted the streets and, instead of turning into ice, flowed harmlessly through gutters.

In Carroll, Washington, Frederick and Allegheny counties, ice 1 1/2 inches thick made driving treacherous Saturday night. But by yesterday morning, the sun had vanquished the danger.

"We are in a melting mode," said Bob Loun, a Frederick City police spokesman.

Baltimore residents took full advantage of the surprise.

Hordes of happy golfers in short-sleeved shirts descended upon the driving range at Laurel Golf and Recreation, employee Chuck Turesko said. Joggers shunned treadmills and ran on the streets. Children frolicked without coats.

Local businesses and grocery stores recovered from customer onslaughts. "We ran out of pretty much everything in the store," said Alison Settle, assistant manager of Blockbuster Video in Reisterstown. As the storm hoopla brewed Saturday, "thousands" flooded the store, she said.

With only the brave venturing out on the eve of the storm, people who left the warmth of their homes found empty streets and short lines at restaurants and movie theaters. But though highways were virtually deserted Saturday night, those who did venture out complained about the other folks on the road.

"It isn't so much the weather, it's the drivers -- they just don't know how to drive in this weather," said David Elam, 44, a mortgage banker who took his sons to see the movie "The Faculty" on Saturday night. "I just try to avoid them."

At Baltimore-Washington International Airport, passengers traveling to the storm-ravaged Midwest were still stuck waiting in long lines. Incoming flights from Columbus, Ohio, and Toronto were canceled; flights from Chicago, Cleveland and St. Louis were delayed.

But dire predictions of an airport shutdown didn't materialize.

"We were pleasantly surprised by how few flights were delayed," said Sharon Perry, a BWI spokeswoman. "Now watch, next time they'll say we aren't going to get bad weather, and we will get slammed."

One Baltimore family found a silver lining in the aftermath of the panic. They had been trying to get into Port Discovery, Baltimore's new $32 million children's museum, which had been filled to capacity since its opening last week. Until yesterday.

"When everyone woke up, we reacted really quickly [and] got down when the doors opened," said Tom Maddux, 38, a real estate developer from Towson. "We found a parking place -- there was no one there."

Many families headed to the Baltimore Zoo, and visitors to Druid Hill Park sat on benches, reading newspapers in the day's warmth.

"I didn't want it to snow again," said 9-year-old Kayla Lidie, a fourth-grader who was playing outside the zoo.

During Saturday's flurries, Kayla complained, she was kept inside and ended up cleaning the kitchen floor.

Other children, however, woke up saddened by the weather change yesterday.

David Hartzell, 38, an investment banker who was pushing his 3-year-old daughter, Victoria, in a pink stroller, said, "We were a little disappointed, but she likes the zoo as much as sledding."

Reporter Sarah Pekkanen contributed to this article.

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