Snow startled city in 1942

Way Back When

Storm: A heavy spring snowfall caught residents by surprise on Palm Sunday, shut down many forms of transportation and kept people at home.

March 27, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

It was an innocuous-enough weather forecast that greeted readers of The Sun and Evening Sun on March 28, 1942, as they busied themselves with preparations for Holy Week and Easter.

"For Baltimore and Vicinity -- Becoming colder today, with light showers ending before noon" and with The Evening Sun reporting: "Maryland -- Somewhat colder tonight, with snow flurries in the west portion."

The next day, Marylanders awakened to find it snowing.

It snowed from 2 a.m. Sunday until 9 p.m. Sunday evening.

By the time the storm ended, 22 inches of snow filled the streets of Baltimore while it dumped 36 inches on Carroll County. Westminster received 30 inches and Centreville on the Eastern Shore was hit with 10.

The 22-inch snowfall nearly topped Baltimore's record, 24.5 inches, set in 1924. It nearly doubled the heaviest previous March total of 12 inches, established in 1892.

John R. Weeks, a Baltimore weatherman, described the snowstorm as a "freak."

He explained to reporters that "it's what they call a `sugar snow.' As it melts, the water will tend to be absorbed in the ground, a condition that makes more sap in the trees and shrubs later in the spring."

He said the storm was caused by "an unusual condition of quiet air with the temperature hanging at a precise level to provide snow instead of rain."

The Sun report read: "The snow, characterized by the Weather Bureau as `wet and clinging,' tied up vehicular traffic all over the State. Thousands of vehicles were abandoned by their owner, many of them stuck athwart traffic lanes, preventing movement by other vehicles."

Telephone and power lines snapped under the weight of the snow. Tree limbs blocked roads and highways throughout the state.

"Streetcars, trackless trolleys and busses were halted or seriously delayed despite the heroic efforts of transit officials and their employees to keep their vehicles moving," reported The Sun. "An Old Bay Line cargo boat, the `State of Virginia,' went aground early yesterday morning off Hoppers Island halfway up the Chesapeake Bay, as a result of poor visibility,"

A thousand men from the Bureau of Street Cleaning hauled out 40 snowplows.

"In most cases, motorists could not even leave their garages or the curbs where their cars were parked. Housewives in some sections found it difficult to open their front doors. It was the most `stay-at-home' Sunday in years," reported The Sun.

"In Towson the lights went on and off several times. Candles were in use in many county homes and many Greenspring Valley residents, whose cooking equipment depends on electricity, ate their Palm Sunday dinner out of cans."

On Monday, public schools were closed and stores opened at noon.

The transit company reported that 84,444 more passengers rode public transit than the previous Monday, bringing the total to 698,000, because many automobiles owners, said The Sun, "were still trying to dig out their machines."

With rising temperatures, the snow melted as quickly as it had arrived -- and added 3 billion gallons of much-needed water to depleted city reservoirs.

"The military authorities frown upon any detailed discussion of weather conditions, but printed references to the fact that we had snow in this city on Palm Sunday is not regarded as information likely to be of value to the enemy. It is sufficiently unusual, however, to startle Baltimoreans and to disrupt their plans for what they always hope will be a fine spring Sunday," said an Evening Sun editorial.

"We have had a March snow such as not even our grandfathers knew, and it leaves everybody amazed and wondering."

Pub Date: 3/27/99

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