Watching county snow show is bit flaky in such clear skies

February 25, 2002|By Kevin Cowherd

CLICKING THROUGH the channels the other night, sedated with a couple of Amstel Lights and about 3 metric tons of those cheddar cheese goldfish crackers, I came across what can only be described as a bold new form of programming.

It was called Baltimore County's Snow Fighters, which, I'm told, is running three times a week on Comcast`s BCTV (Channel 25).

Basically, it's a slick, 13-minute video about the county's massive snow-removal program, with a "behind the plow" perspective from the Snow Fighters themselves on how they fight winter storms.

The irony, of course, is obvious: There's been no snow for the Snow Fighters to fight.

But we'll get to that in a moment.

Anyway, Snow Fighters opens with dramatic music and footage of a snowy vista as seen through the clicking windshield wipers of a county snowplow.

Interspersed with clips of cars sliding on icy roads, weary citizens shoveling out driveways and plucky snowplow crews gamely beating back the White Death are evaluations on the county's preparedness from C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, the veteran county executive, and Ed Adams, the director of public works, who comes across as the Donald Rumsfeld of the war on snow.

Various snowplow operators also appear on camera to explain what they do and how the public can help by not parking in the street during a snowstorm, not shoveling snow into the street, etc.

Look, I'm not saying this is The Godfather here.

I'm not saying you're going to bolt out of your La-Z-Boy and scream: "Honey, quick! You gotta SEE this!"

But it does give you an appreciation for the county's state of readiness, which appears to be at the Defcon 4 level. (Did you know that every fall, county highway crews attend something called Snow College, where they brush up on the latest snow-removal techniques?)

And it gives you an idea of how hard the highway crews work, and some of the problems they encounter from idiot motorists and homeowners during snowstorms.

In fact, after watching it, I felt like picking up the phone and inviting a few of these snowplow drivers over for dinner.

I wanted to march into Ruppersberger's office the next day, clap him on the back and say: "Dutch, you're doing a helluva job. Lemme take you to lunch."

And Ed Adams, the strong, taciturn man at the helm of the operation -- him I wanted to take to Tio Pepe's.

Still, it was sort of strange watching Snow Fighters in the midst of a virtually snowless winter.

Me, I feel sorry for the people who put this video together. (It was written and directed by Ellen Kobler, a communications specialist for the county.)

Look at it from their perspective. You make this neat video, raise the public`s awareness about snowstorm-related issues, get them fired up to help the poor over-worked snowplow operators next time there's a big storm.

And then there's no snow.

OK, fine, we did have that one snowstorm back in early January. But it hit on a Saturday, which doesn't really count.

Schools were out. The roads weren't clogged with jittery motorists going to or from work. So no one panicked.

And what fun is a snowstorm around here if no one's panicking?

As I've said before, there's nothing in this world like watching a full-scale Baltimore freak-out when there's snow in the forecast.

On days like that, it's all I can do not to drive to the Giant, set up a lawn chair and watch the wild-eyed hordes wiping out the bread and milk supplies.

And to catch a couple of shoppers duking it out for that last package of toilet paper, why, that would be pure heaven.

Still, when I got Ed Adams on the phone the other day, the quiet star of Snow Fighters wasn't exactly grieving over the lack of snow this winter.

"It's been a real good winter for us," he said.

Oh, c'mon, Ed. With this new video out and that fleet of shiny county snowplows all gassed up and ready to go, I bet you guys are just ITCHING for a little action.

A nice cold front ripping down from Canada with two feet of fresh snow -- that'd make you boys happy, wouldn't it?

"No," he said. "I worry every time I see a snowflake."

Then he took me on a mental tour of Winter Weather Hell Past: the 26 inches that paralyzed Baltimore in 1979, the worst storm in 57 years; the crippling ice storms of 1994; the 22.5 inches of snow that pulverized us in '96.

What Ed Adams was saying was this: You never know.

One minute you're rolling along, singing a song. The next minute, boom, a blizzard slams into the region and the Tong Wars start up in the supermarkets and the snowplow guys are working 18-hour shifts again.

In other words, just because it's late February and we haven't had much snow, that doesn't mean a howling whiteout isn't just around the corner.

"You never feel comfortable until about April in this position," he said.

By the way, the next showing of Snow Fighters is at noon today.

Turn to Channel 25. Grab some cheddar cheese goldfish.

Pretend it's snowing.

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