First snow leaves Md. slow, slippery

Arrival of winter storm gives pupils a day off, delays drivers, BWI

5 inches in city, 7 on Shore

Many fender-benders, no major problems across Baltimore area

January 21, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

The season's first significant winter storm dumped about a half-foot of snow across greater Baltimore yesterday, slowing the morning commute, snarling Baltimore-Washington International Airport for hours and answering the prayers of thousands of schoolchildren hoping for a day off.

Yesterday's snowfall amounts varied only slightly across Maryland. Hardest hit was the Eastern Shore, with Somerset County officials reporting nearly 7 inches by late afternoon. Five inches of snow was reported in Baltimore and Towson. Six inches fell in Annapolis, Laurel and Frederick County, and 4 in Westminster, according to the National Weather Service. Four to 5 inches covered most of the rest of the state.

All public schools across Maryland were closed yesterday, as were many colleges and universities.

Travelers waiting for flights out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport were hit with long delays when officials shut down two runways at 10: 30 a.m. for snowplowing and deicing. The runways reopened after 12: 30 p.m., according to a BWI spokeswoman. Some flights were canceled.

Despite slow going on highways, no serious accidents were reported. State highway officials said two unrelated wrecks involving tractor-trailers occurred on Interstate 95 near Elkridge, along with fender-benders across the region. At midnight, state police had reported no fatalities.

"One crash is a crash too many, but all things considered, it could have been a lot worse," said State Highway Administration spokeswoman Lora Rakowski.

The closest call may have come when police in Carroll County briefly thought a child had fallen through thin ice at Liberty Reservoir. It turned out to be a Labrador retriever, and the dog managed to pull itself out.

The harsh weather didn't end with yesterday's flakes. Forecasters say whipping winds of 20 to 30 mph will make it feel more like 20 degrees below zero by this morning and could complicate the morning rush hour.

"The wind may dry up the water on the roads, but it might blow snow on the roads, producing icy spots," said Dewey Walston, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.

As a precaution, school officials in Anne Arundel and Talbot counties canceled classes for today.

More snow is expected tomorrow night and Sunday, though Walston said it is too early to accurately predict accumulations.

With only flurries this winter until yesterday, some people seemed to have forgotten basic snowstorm protocol.

Biking to work

Columbia resident John Chynoweth looked outside before going to work and thought one thing: Everything looks so beautiful, fluffy and white. So he stuck to his daily routine of commuting to his Columbia office on his mountain bike.

"Um, well, that was kind of a mistake," said Chynoweth, a computer software developer for Amerix, a Columbia-based online debt-consolidation company. "Usually my commute is about 30 minutes, but this took over an hour. The snow was fluffy on the bike paths, but there was just too much of it. I had to go out into the street."

That decision led to a nearly serious encounter with an annoyed motorist, who wondered why a man on a bike was in the road in a snowstorm.

"I wondered the same thing, but I'll be getting a ride home from one of my co-workers," Chynoweth said, laughing. "It's just too dangerous out there."

Doug Warehime went to the opposite extreme, vehicularly speaking. The off-duty Baltimore firefighter cranked up his Honda four-wheel all-terrain vehicle -- normally used on hunting trips -- and attached a plow to clear neighbors' sidewalks on West 43rd Street in Baltimore.

He also took 4-year-old neighbor Joey Atkinson on a joyride that left the little boy with a giddy grin on his face.

An old boy's heart

Irvin Brown had less luck with his shiny toy. His cherry red 8-horsepower Snow King snowblower would not turn on, foiling Brown's plans to clear sidewalks outside the North Charles Street office building he manages.

"I've been doing the old-fashioned shoveling for a long time," said Brown, 75. "The old boy's heart ain't gonna stand much more!"

Business unusual

This being Baltimore, the nonblizzard still sent area residents searching for shovels and other supplies.

At Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse in Glen Burnie, the snowfall brought in hundreds of customers yesterday morning. Most headed for the prominent displays of shovels, windshield wiper fluid and sacks of salt, and then went straight to the cash register without browsing the store.

"You probably lose business on a snow day as a total," said manager Mike Cleckley, who instructed staff members to lug the shovels and salt out to the front of the store late the night before. "Customers have a one-track mind on snow days. They're focused on buying the snow-related items and heading home."

In Towson, hair salons and car repair shops coped with cancellations from clients who felt no need to venture out into the snow.

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