Marylanders were ready for blizzard that passed by

Storm skirts state where flurries were mostly preparations

March 06, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

After bracing for the late winter snowstorm that pounded sections of the Northeast, some Marylanders appeared let down by yesterday's light snowfall.

"You wake up, and there's nothing there!" said Karen Knight, executive assistant at the Howard County Tourism Council.

"It was built up to such a hype, no one was prepared to come to work. ... I wasn't."

Despite the hype by various news media, the National Weather Service said Maryland was not expected to get walloped by the storm that formed Sunday night off the Delmarva Peninsula and lumbered its way north and east.

"The storm intensified off the coast as forecasted the last few days, but it's obvious a lot of dry air worked its way to the west side of the storm and the precipitation shield was not as wide as anticipated," said Phil Poole, National Weather Service senior lead forecaster.

Throughout much of the region, Marylanders were treated to a relatively light snowfall that - with temperatures in the 30s - melted as it hit the pavement.

What snow there was fell mostly in the western part of the state - nearly eight inches was reported in Allegany County and two inches in Frederick County early yesterday.

With the storm out over the Atlantic Ocean, the region can expect wind gusts of up to 40 mph and highs in the 40s today, said Howard Silverman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.

The forecast called for a 40 percent chance of some snow, possibly snow showers, in the region today.

Yesterday's snowfall might have been light, but it still caused some headaches.

The morning flurries and wet roads contributed to minor accidents, slowed traffic on the Baltimore Beltway and caused flight cancellations at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Crashes on icy bridge

In Howard County, several morning commuters on Interstate 70 crashed because of an icy bridge that carries the highway east over Route 97, said State Police Cpl. Damon Vinson.

The trouble started about 6:25 a.m., Vinson said, when a Suzuki Sidekick cresting a hill skidded on the bridge and turned over. The driver was not seriously injured.

State police closed two of the three lanes of the interstate, but soon afterward three more vehicles were involved in a chain reaction rear-end collision because they could not stop on the icy bridge.

Again, there were no injuries, police said. State Highway Administration trucks salted the area and lanes were reopened by 8 a.m.

"It was just a fluke," Vinson said, that the bridge suddenly froze. "It was hard to even walk" on the span, he said.

Flights canceled

At BWI, the storm that bombarded the Northeast led US Airways to cancel seven flights to and from Manchester, N.H. American Airlines canceled all daytime flights to and from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, and Continental canceled all flights to Newark Airport in New Jersey. Southwest canceled one flight to Hartford, Conn.

John White, BWI spokesman, said travelers should call the airlines or check the BWI Web site - www.bwiairport.com - before coming to the airport today.

But for most of the region, the storm-that-wasn't was a bust.

Hospitals and police reported few storm-related problems. Metropolitan area schools were open except for Baltimore City (closed for professional development for teachers), the Hereford area in northern Baltimore County and Harford County.

"This storm is a non-event. We didn't even come in early," said Andrew Daneker, chief of Howard County's highways bureau.

By 3 p.m., the road crews expected to go home on time.

"If we're needed [overnight], we'll be back," Daneker said.

The Westminster state police barracks in Carroll County brought in five extra troopers per shift and five four-wheel-drive vehicles to cope with the expected treacherous conditions.

"We were ready," said Lt. Terry L. Katz, barracks commander.

But with about an inch of snow on the ground and the roads mostly free of ice, the barracks reported only two weather-related accidents by 2 p.m. yesterday.

Other diversions

Yesterday, as the sun at times peeked through the clouds, people who thought they would be sledding or snowed in for the day instead took to places like the TownMall of Westminster to pass the time.

Joy Fitz, Laura Wixted and Sara Hollands, all sixth-graders at Shiloh Middle School in Hampstead, got a lift to the mall for a movie, video games and shopping.

"My mom, she was shopping for everything [over the weekend]," Fitz said. "Now the grass isn't even covered."

Unexpected duties

Rich Evans' snow day turned into a baby-sitting assignment. The 25-year-old Westminster electrician wound up entertaining his 7-year-old nephew, a Taneytown first-grader, at Record Town Games in the mall.

Evans said he decided to take off work when snow started falling early in the morning.

"I was planning to take off anyway because I figured there was going to be at least a foot of snow," he said.

On a day when he expected to be shoveling snow, maintenance worker Juan Cruz, 29, of Silver Spring was using a blower to clear soggy oak leaves from the Wilde Lake village center in Columbia.

The morning's snow had already melted and the blizzard forecast was looking a lot like a false alarm.

"Maybe tomorrow," Cruz said in Spanish.

Sun staff writers Jamie Smith Hopkins, Laura Cadiz, Larry Carson, Jamie Manfuso and Laura Vozzella contributed to this article.

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