All stocked up and awaiting threat of snow

Md. hospitals, police, schools on alert if something develops

`Nothing but wait and see'

March 05, 2001|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

The promise of a major snowstorm hung in the air like a wet blanket yesterday, giving Marylanders an extra day to stock up on bread, milk, videotapes, shovels and rock salt.

Although Sundays forecasted snowfall never materialized, the fog and drizzle of yesterday afternoon was expected to give way to serious snow by today, putting hospitals, schools, airports and police on high alert.

The National Weather Service said Maryland might be spared the brunt of this late-winter storm. But the pending collision of two fronts -- one northbound, one southbound -- was expected to dump more than a foot of snow in parts of the Northeast, beginning this morning and continuing through midday tomorrow.

"Once this storm really cranks up, it will be a tough one to deal with," said National Weather Service senior meteorologist Michael Eckert.

Eckert said the storm would probably bring wet snow and strong, gusting winds that could cause snowdrifts and some hazardous driving.

State Police Sgt. Denard Allen said extra troopers had been scheduled for duty today and others were on standby in case Maryland received more snow than had been predicted.

"We're prepared," said Allen, who advised motorists to check weather updates before traveling on state highways.

Baltimore-Washington International Airport's "snow team," which held a strategy session yesterday, was also on standby. Runway plows were gassed up and eyes remained glued to the Weather Channel.

"There's nothing we can do but wait and see what happens," said Betsey Sanpere, BWI's spokeswoman. "We may get half an inch, we may get a foot."

Farther north, Delta, Continental and other airlines had canceled dozens of flights at the New York metropolitan area's three airports, LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark. No flights had been canceled at BWI, but Sanpere said there is often a "domino effect" in which flights to or from snowbound cities affect BWI's flights.

Jim Peters, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said flight cancellations at Northeast airports were sporadic, but he advised travelers to check with their airline or travel agent before driving to the airport.

"It's their call to cancel flights, so it depends on what Mother Nature deals us as to how we'll react," Peters said.

At Johns Hopkins Hospital, pharmaceuticals have been stockpiled and a fleet of four-wheel-drive trucks stood at the ready to ferry doctors and nurses to work if the heavy snows came to be.

"Everything is in place to get the essential people in there," Hopkins spokesman Gary Stevenson said. "We're good to go no matter what happens."

Baltimore City schools were closed today for professional development for teachers. But as of yesterday evening, other area school systems had not yet canceled classes, preferring to wait and see what this morning brought.

Up and down the East Coast, authorities urged people to stay off the roads and to travel with a winter survival kit, including food, blankets and water. In New York, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said 2,000 trucks were ready to begin plowing and spreading salt on city streets. And in Massachusetts, residents were emptying hardware stores of their snow blowers.

The mid-Atlantic area may get a break this time.

Temperatures, after hitting 60 on Saturday, remained above freezing yesterday, so the highways were wet but not icy. And while it was snowing last night in Western Maryland, most of the state saw only a slow but steady drizzle of rain. Meanwhile, the collision point of the two converging storms -- comprised of a wet storm system moving up from the South and a cold system from Canada -- had moved slightly to the north.

Rather than the heavier amounts of snow initially predicted, Maryland might get just a few inches "and may just avoid all of this," Eckert said.

Residents might be forgiven if they were skeptical about predictions of any snow.

In January, forecasters called for a major snowstorm, prompting the usual emptying of milk and toilet paper from grocery shelves. But that storm stayed offshore and the Baltimore area saw nary a flake.

And this past weekend saw spring-like weather, warm enough for T-shirts and shorts on Saturday.

Still, the State Highway Administration wasn't taking any chances.

They had their 2,100 pieces of equipment ready for plowing and salting the roads this morning. The state highway's road crews were ready with a full stockpile of salt and magnesium chloride, which is sometimes mixed with salt to help melt snow at lower temperatures.

"We're prepared for whatever Mother Nature brings us," said Lora Rakowski, a spokeswoman for the highway administration.

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