Not just snow but lots of ice forecast today

Sleet, freezing rain could pose threat to power lines across state

Utilities send for extra crews

Western Md. could get snow accumulations of as much as 12 inches

January 30, 2000|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

The second major storm of the season is expected to hit Maryland today, but this one could bring widespread power outages and ice-covered roads.

The National Weather Service said yesterday that snow would begin to fall in the Baltimore area at sunrise but that it would likely to change to sleet and freezing rain by late morning, then back to snow by sunset.

Frederick County and western parts of the state are expected to escape the freezing rain, but they could get 6 to 12 inches of snow.

The storm is pushing its way up the East Coast after wreaking havoc in Southern states. In downtown Atlanta, where the Super Bowl will be played today, ice was blamed for a 47-car pileup yesterday. One traffic death in Georgia was blamed on ice.

Storm advisories were posted yesterday across South Carolina and North Carolina, where residents were still digging out after last week's record snowfall of 20 inches.

"The problem for Baltimore is not the snow so much; it's the freezing precipitation," said Michelle Margraf, a meteorologist at the weather service. "That makes traveling much more difficult."

She said that by the end of the day, the area could have up to 4 inches of snow and three-quarters of an inch of ice -- the perfect recipe for power outages.

A quarter-inch of ice can cause tree branches to break and fall on lines, and a half-inch or more of ice can snap lines by itself, said Mike Delaney, a spokesman for Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.

When Hurricane Floyd hit in September, more than 1 million BGE customers lost power, some for eight days. The state's Public Service Commission held hearings to find out why restoration was so slow.

"We were caught by surprise," Delaney said yesterday. "Now, with advance notice, we have put a plan into action and hopefully the outcome will be much better."

Ninety repair workers are expected to arrive from other states today, he said, and an additional 60 should be here by early tomorrow. At least 360 workers will be ready to fix any of BGE's 17,000 miles of power lines.

Makini Street, a spokeswoman for Potomac Electric Power Co., said Pepco will have 150 crews ready to work and the number of people at the utility's call center was bumped up from six to 60.

In Baltimore, 300 city workers -- who had been working 12-hour shifts to clear last week's snowfall -- are poised to plow roadways and pour the equivalent of 20 million boxes of Morton's salt on streets.

"Morale's good, but I mean, people are tired," said Bob Murrow, a spokesman for the Department of Public Works. "They've been going around the clock."

The storm's silver lining, the weather service's Margraf said, is that it's easier to plow and shovel when ice accumulates on snow instead of directly on roads and sidewalks.

Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger said he would decide early today whether to open the county's emergency command center.

"The good news is, it is happening on a Sunday," Ruppersberger said. "It could not happen at a better time but hopefully it goes back to snow by the time Super Bowl activities start."

But many were preparing for the worst. The Super Fresh store on Dulaney Valley Road in Towson began running out of storm-related supplies by 7 last night.

"They are buying everything," said co-manager Mark Oglesby. "But those particular items -- toilet paper, bread, milk, water and salt -- are what they are really buying."

Last week's heavy snowfall was still causing problems.

Baltimore County police said they had reports of fistfights breaking out yesterday as up to 5,000 cars were stuck for several hours in the parking lot of the Timonium Fair Grounds as people who had attended computer, train and antique shows tried to leave.

Sgt. Wayne Clement said the main exit out of the parking lot onto York Road -- the only exit with a traffic signal -- had not been plowed and the gate was locked, snarling traffic. Parking attendants had earlier directed people to enter the lot through another gate, which does not have a light.

Clement said the problem was compounded when, for unknown reasons, security guards and parking lot attendants abandoned their duties and went home. "Apparently, all their security people bailed out," he said yesterday afternoon. "It's total chaos; there is no organization, and it is totally irresponsible."

Fairground officials were not available to comment yesterday.

At Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where more than 150 people were snowbound overnight Tuesday, 125 workers are on alert, ready to plow and spread snow-melting potassium acetate on runways, spokesman John White said.

White advises anyone planning to fly out of the airport today to call the airline to check the flight's status. Information can also be obtained at www.bwiairport.com.

Sun staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this article.

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