More snowfall for chilly winter

December was one of coldest on record

January 06, 2001|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

The first snowfall of the new year slowed traffic on land and in the air yesterday, and put a fresh frosting on a winter already chilled by one of the coldest Decembers on record in Baltimore.

The snow began about 10 a.m. in Baltimore, precisely as forecast, as a cold front moved through the region from the Midwest.

"I'm not trying to kiss myself, but we got the times pretty perfect," said Andy Woodcock, a National Weather Service forecaster in Sterling, Va. "Shazam! Once in a while we get it right."

The fine, dry flakes paused before noon, then resumed with a second burst in the early afternoon. A total of 1 inch to 4 inches had accumulated across Central and Western Maryland before the snow stopped.

Snow emergencies were declared in six counties, imposing parking restrictions on key routes from Allegany County eastward to Harford County.

Schools dismissed students early in Frederick, St. Mary's, Caroline, Talbot and Dorchester counties, but not in the Baltimore region.

As 2 to 3 inches piled up on Carroll County roads, school officials were inundated by phone calls from anxious parents asking about an early dismissal. Carroll school spokeswoman Carey Gaddis said she caught several expletive-laden calls.

Slowing traffic

Interstate highways remained mostly wet or slushy, according to State Highway Administration spokeswoman Sandy Dobson.

About 1,100 highway crew members were on the job, she said. "They've been laying down magnesium chloride, a liquid chemical that helps to prevent snow or ice from bonding to the road surface."

Several inches of slippery slush slowed traffic on many local roads. When workplaces began to let out early, the traffic got worse.

Delays, cancellations

At Baltimore-Washington International Airport, more than a dozen of the 108 arrivals and departures scheduled between noon and 3 p.m. were delayed by the weather, and two were canceled.

One runway was closed for 30 minutes just after 2 p.m. while maintenance crews coated the surface with chemicals to prevent snow buildup, according to airport spokesman John White.

The snowstorm blew into town with a weak cold front from the upper Midwest, Woodcock said.

"It's what you could call a clipper system. That means it comes in over land, and as a result it's drier. It's not tapped into a moisture source, like the Atlantic, so snowfall amounts are fairly low," he said.

Cold month

A couple of inches of snow in January isn't much to get excited about. But after a series of relatively mild winters in Maryland, this one has seemed especially, well, wintry.

After all, there was snow on the ground for Christmas, and December ended at midnight Sunday as the seventh-coldest since 1871, when record-keeping began in Baltimore.

Temperatures last month averaged 30 degrees, 6.7 degrees below the 30-year norm for BWI.

It was the coldest December since 1989, which set a record low of 25.4 degrees.

The warmest date in December 2000 was the 17th, with a high of 62 degrees.

The coldest daytime highs were on Christmas Day and the 26th, both of which topped out at 27 degrees.

Every day in December delivered lows of 32 degrees or colder. The chilliest nights were on the 23rd and 24th, with lows of 12 degrees at BWI.

Through the end of December, the number of heating degree days this season - a measure of heating energy needs - is 18 percent above normal.

Higher prices for natural gas, oil or electricity will only add to consumers' costs.

There was rain on five days, and snow - 1.3 inches at the airport - on the 19th. That storm dropped between 5 and 7 inches of snow in parts of Frederick and Washington counties.

Woodcock blamed the December cold on a persistent ridge of high pressure over the western United States. That allowed cold arctic air to push southward across central Canada and into the mid-Atlantic region.

Record accumulations

The same setup produced record monthly snow accumulations in the upper Midwest and Northeast.

Milwaukee measured 41.4 inches, setting a new December mark. Buffalo, N.Y., had 50.3 inches last month, its seventh-snowiest ever.

Record-low temperatures were set or tied in December in Flint, Mich., and Waterloo, Iowa.

It was the coldest December on record in Fort Wayne and South Bend, Ind., and tied for the coldest in Savannah, Ga., the weather service said.

Temperatures could rise above normal by Wednesday of next week, Woodcock said. But the long-range forecast continues to call for a "normal" winter.

Conflicting extremes

The year 2000 in Baltimore ended slightly cooler and wetter than normal. But it was an odd year of conflicting extremes.

January produced 23.1 inches of snow in three storms, and the year's coldest low - 7 degrees. But February and March were dry and 3 degrees to 4 degrees warmer than normal. July was the coolest since 1891.

The summer saw just 11 days with highs of 90 degrees or more, and none above 95.

Normally there are 30 days in the 90s or higher at BWI. December was the only month in 2000 without a high of 70 degrees or more.

April, June, July and September were very wet, with a total of nearly 8 inches of surplus rain. But October was the third-driest on record, with just 0.08 inches of rain.

November, too, was dry, and by the end of December the year's surplus rainfall had drained away to just 1.15 inches.

Sun staff writer Jennifer McMenamin contributed to this article.

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