Sizable snowfall hits Southern Md., Shore

Storm closes schools, causes 15-car pileup

January 04, 2002|By Jeff Barker and Chris Guy | Jeff Barker and Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

After getting a virtual reprieve from snow last year, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore were socked yesterday with a winter storm that deposited 2 to 7 inches and caused a 15-car pileup in Charles County.

The storm -- heavier than expected in some areas -- slickened roads and caused many traffic accidents, including the 15-car crash at the intersection of Route 5 and Route 488 near Hughesville. The morning pileup resulted in minor injuries and forced the rerouting of commuters heading south to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

"It was a total domino effect," said Nicole Kelley, spokeswoman for the Charles County sheriff's office.

Before yesterday, Southern Maryland hadn't endured a noteworthy snowfall in two years. Last winter, Charles and Calvert counties -- which closed schools yesterday -- received only minor dustings. St. Mary's County schools opened two hours late yesterday.

On the Shore, schools in Talbot, Dorchester, Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset counties, which have experienced frequent delays and closures this school year because of fog, were also closed yesterday. Caroline County closed its schools two hours early.

The snow line was unusually stark on portions of the Shore. Officials in Easton reported about 2 inches of snow, while 15 miles west at Wye Mills and 20 miles north in Denton, the ground was almost clear.

With a strong northeast wind kicking up 4- to 9-foot waves, Ocean City officials reported about 2 inches of snow.

In Somerset County, officials had expected about 2 inches of snow, but got two to three times that, said Steve Marshall, who heads the county's 911 center.

"It looks like about 4 inches here in Princess Anne, but Crisfield probably got 6 inches," Marshall said. "The National Weather Service was pretty confident of their estimates, but you never know with these southern storms."

Hardest hit was the southernmost portion of the Delmarva Peninsula, where officials in the Virginia counties of Accomack and Northampton struggled with an unusual 6- to 7-inch snowfall.

"This is the first significant snow we've had since 1989," said Rob Glover, Accomack County's emergency operations director. "Since 1997 when I came here, we've had a few storms with a couple inches, but nothing like this."

The storm stretched from Louisiana and Mississippi into Virginia and Maryland. South Carolina's 64,000 state employees were asked to stay home.

The storm had pushed off the Delmarva coast by yesterday afternoon. But another low-pressure area was expected to move northeast along the Carolina coast, bringing a chance of snow or rain to Maryland on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

Southern Maryland typically receives about half -- or less -- of the state's average annual snowfall of 20 inches.

Unlike a January 2000 storm that surprised the region with up to 18 inches of snow, this smaller storm was preceded by an accurate warning.

St. Mary's County officials said they placed workers on a "snow watch" by 3:30 a.m. Five dump trucks with plow blades were soon dispatched, and contractors began salting primary roads.

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