After taking weak punch, area braces for a wallop

Between 8 and 16 inches of snow forecast for today

February 16, 2003|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

The weather showed some love on Valentine's Day through yesterday, coating the area with 2.4 inches of snow that road crews easily handled. But the honeymoon was set to end today, with a much stronger storm on the way.

Forecasters said the storm, expected to begin this morning, could dump between 8 and 16 inches of snow and last through tomorrow.

"This is a major snowstorm," said Steve Zubrick, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va. "

Twice this season, in December and early this month, storms have dumped at least 7 inches of snow on Baltimore.

Yesterday's snowfall brought the season's total to 25.3 inches, according to the National Weather Service. The average annual snowfall in Baltimore is 22 inches.

Forecasters said the snow could fall throughout the day and the evening at a rate of up to an inch an hour. Some rural areas in Maryland and Virginia could receive as much as 14 inches of snow, Zubrick said.

The moderate amount of snow Friday and yesterday was a relief to road crews across the state who are preparing for long shifts today and tomorrow.

They worked through the night on Friday salting highways and streets for the impending snow and spent most of yesterday plowing.

Crews at Baltimore-Washington International Airport worked through Friday as well and kept runways, ramps and taxiways clear yesterday. Airport officials reported only three fight cancellations and two delays, none of which they said was related to the weather here.

Yesterday's snow "never came down too hard," said David E. Buck, spokesman for the State Highway Administration. "We sent crews home to rest up" for today and tomorrow.

If the forecasts hold up, they will need the rest.

While road crews had it far easier yesterday than had been predicted Friday, the crew at Super Fresh food market on 41st Street in Baltimore had a tough time keeping up with demand.

Bill Bennett, the store's director, said the convergence of three events - Valentine's Day, terrorist warnings and snow forecasts - kept his store packed until 3 a.m. yesterday.

"We had 5,000 people come through," Bennett said. "Typically, about a quarter of that many people shop here."

Customers stocked up on the basics for each event, Bennett said: flowers and balloons for the holiday; batteries for threatened terrorist attacks; and bread and water for the storm.

"It all hit at the same time," said Ron McCotter, an assistant store manager. "They wiped us out."

Lamont Johnson, 23, packed up the back seat of his car with nine bags of groceries for his mother and his son.

"I'm just trying to get prepared with the bare necessities," Johnson said.

A coastal flood warning and a winter storm warning is expected to remain in effect through tomorrow morning for most of Maryland.

The snow will be accompanied by temperatures that should not rise higher than the low 20s and winds that will be gusting to between 15 mph and 25 mph, causing snowdrifts in rural areas.

Zubrick said road crews will have to be prepared to use all their resources to fight this storm.

Alfred H. Foxx Jr., director of the city's Office of Transportation, is ready.

Baltimore's crews are on "full force," Foxx said. That means 350 employees in 150 trucks working two 12-hour shifts to tap into the stockpile of 9,000 tons of salt.

City trucks dumped 4,000 tons of salt on city streets through yesterday.

"Our major concern is the freezing," Foxx said. "If people don't need to be on the street, we would advise them please do not go out on the street."

Garry Zour, superintendent for Baltimore County Bureau of Highways, said he kept his workers well-rested yesterday after major and secondary roads were cleared early.

He said air mattresses would be set up at the main office in Towson to keep his crews fresh.

Perhaps, like Zubrick of the National Weather Service, they will have time to dream of warmer weather.

"Just 36 more days until spring," Zubrick said. "Something like that."

It's 33, to be exact. And, yes, everyone is counting.

Sun staff writers Linda Linley and Alec MacGillis contributed to this article.

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