It really was `the Big One'

Weather service revises total

BWI's 28.2 inches is most snow in 132 years

Death toll in Md. rises to 8

Equipment problems stall clearing of city streets

The Snowstorm Of 2003

February 19, 2003|By Johnathon E. Briggs and Frank D. Roylance | Johnathon E. Briggs and Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

What felt like the worst snowstorm ever was indeed The Big One.

As Marylanders continued to dig out from beneath the wintry onslaught that began late Friday, resumed with a vengeance early Sunday and sputtered to a finish yesterday, the National Weather Service officially declared that it was the worst winter storm to hit the Baltimore region since record-keeping began in 1871.

The upgrading of the storm coincided with a rise in storm-related deaths across the state that included four children who perished inside snow-covered cars after inhaling toxic levels of carbon monoxide fumes and a 55-year-old Baltimore man who died of an apparent heart attack. At least eight deaths have been blamed on the storm.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. surveyed one of the most visible reminders of the storm's impact yesterday, the collapsed roof of the B&O Railroad Museum's historic roundhouse. During the visit, he said the state of emergency will remain in effect until this afternoon.

With above-freezing temperatures and sunshine beaming down, barricades of snow began to melt and the region slowly emerged from the agonizing crawl that had gripped it.

Mail was delivered. Buses and trains began limited service by midafternoon. Airplanes took to the skies. State legislators convened. And for the first time since Friday, there was such a thing as a morning commute - at least for those who had to trudge to work on slushy highways.

But the annoyance remained. Schools systems across the region remain closed. American Red Cross officials worried about dwindling blood supplies. And snowbound residents in cul-de-sacs and in neighborhoods accessible only by narrow roads are left wondering: When will my street be plowed?

In Mount Washington, residents grew so desperate yesterday that they stood along Greenspring Avenue, waving their hands excitedly in an attempt to flag down a snowplow - to no avail. It was just one more sign that homeowners with snow-packed driveways have lost their patience with what has become Maryland's unofficial winter sport: shoveling.

Cabin fever

"Several of my neighbors have already told me today, `I've had enough, I'm getting cabin fever!'" said Deborah Seate, 51, who lives in Columbia's Village of Dorsey's Search. "They're walking up to the store just to get out of the house."

For a time, Seate enjoyed the peace and quiet that came with being cut off from the rest of the world by a wall of white. She made soup from scratch. She dug a tunnel out to her bird feeder. She rotated among shoveling, eating and taking naps.

But her street still wasn't plowed yesterday afternoon, and she's beginning to think longingly of "getting back to work and getting back to regular life." Her shovel is wearing out, for heaven's sake.

The main problem at the Howard County Emergency Operations Center was an unending barrage of telephone queries that began at 5 a.m. from residents who had shoveled out their vehicles but were waiting for county snowplows to clear their streets.

"Most people have been reasonable. They've been patient," said Al Ferragamo, the county's public works director. Given that, the county can handle the calls from a few who are "intense" about their unhappiness, he said.

Howard County officials expect to have all residential streets plowed today.

In Westminster, crews began dumping snow at an old treatment plant off Route 27, where the city usually moves excess snow.

Equipment problems

In Baltimore, major roads were cleared yesterday, but side streets in residential neighborhoods continued to be impassable to cars.

The city's efforts to clear the roads were slowed by equipment failures in nearly half its 181 snowplows, ranging from transmission problems to broken windshield wipers and troubles with salt spreaders.

"This is going to happen with any storm, you are always going to have mechanical failures," said Baltimore's public works director, George L. Winfield. "When you have the vehicles operating 24 hours a day, there is a lot of stress on their transmissions, in particular."

Despite the clearing of roads, Interstate 95 near Caton Avenue was backed up for miles yesterday after an accident involving several vehicles shut down southbound lanes.

Trash collection has been suspended indefinitely in the city, and most city employees have been asked to stay home if they do not provide essential services. The city is asking the public to lend a hand by picking up shovels and digging out fire hydrants and clearing storm drains, so streets will not flood as the snow melts.

Amending the record

In revising its summary of the storm's duration, the National Weather Service said it dumped 28.2 inches at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, making it the region's worst in 132 years.

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