Feb. the snowiest month in 120 years

More than 40 inches fell in a mere 28 days -- and more winter may be on tap

March 01, 2003|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Go ahead and bronze those shovels, Baltimore.

We've just survived not only the snowiest February on record, but the snowiest month by any name in this city since at least December 1883.

February saw more snow dumped on the Pearl of the Patapsco -- more than 40 inches -- than all but 11 entire winters since Chester A. Arthur occupied the White House 120 years ago.

And it may not be over.

March has produced some of the region's worst weather, including the Palm Sunday Storm on the last weekend of March 1942 that dropped 22 inches of wet snow on Baltimore and 32 inches on Westminster.

Forecasters don't see anything like that on the horizon. But neither do they see any big warming on the way.

"Whether we see any snowstorms is hard to say. As we get into March, they're much less likely, but not out of the question," said Mike Halpert, head of forecast operations at the national Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs.

The numbers:

February 2003 produced 40.5 inches of snow at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. That's more than six times the February average of 6.4 inches.

The 0.7 inches of snow that fell yesterday brought the season total to 55.6 inches. That's the second-snowiest winter since Baltimore's official snow records began in 1883. The snowiest was in 1995-96, with 62.5 inches.

So far this winter, the airport has recorded 19 days with measurable snowfall, including 13 days when an inch or more fell.

The big event, of course, was the Presidents Day Weekend Storm. It buried the airport in 28.2 inches of snow over four days, including 21.8 inches on Feb. 16.

The normal snowfall for March at BWI is 2.4 inches. But the dismal truth (T.S. Eliot notwithstanding) is that March can be the cruelest month.

There has been measurable snow in Baltimore on every date in March. In 1892, it snowed a record 25.6 inches before April finally arrived.

In addition to the 22-inch Palm Sunday Storm in 1942, there have been four other storms in March that produced 10 inches or more. The most recent was March 13, 1993, with 11.3 inches.

March can be hot, too, of course.

Cold, continued

In 1945, exactly three years after the Palm Sunday Storm, temperatures hit a record 90 degrees in Baltimore. But don't look for anything like that soon.

"Over the next couple of weeks, temperatures look like they're liable to stay either normal or below normal," Halpert said.

You can blame something called the North Atlantic Oscillation -- an alignment of pressure systems over the northern and middle latitudes of the Atlantic Ocean which, in its current phase, means cold weather for the Northeast.

BWI averaged just over 30 degrees in February, more than 5 degrees below normal. December and January were unusually cold, too.

The NAO has been locked in its cold phase since October, Halpert said, something we haven't seen much of in the last 20 years. "But we've certainly seen enough this winter to last a while."

Combined with increased storm activity along the East Coast in response to El Nino conditions in the eastern Pacific Ocean -- something forecasters predicted in the fall, he said -- the cold has triggered plenty of snow.

Rain, flooding possible

As for March, Halpert said, storms are less likely to produce snow and more likely to generate rain.

That rain, accompanied by rising temperatures, could pose the danger of river flooding as the deep snowpack absorbs more water and melting accelerates on saturated terrain.

"The chance for flooding in the next two weeks is definitely above normal," said Accuweather meteorologist Paul Dornsife. "I'd be more concerned about flooding ... than about a blizzard."

But snow remains a possibility. The so-called "Superstorm" of March 13-14, 1993, buried Western Maryland in 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 feet of snow. Baltimore got 12 inches.

In 1958, a storm that struck March 19 to March 21 took down trees, shrubs and utility lines as it piled up 24 inches of wet snow in some Baltimore neighborhoods.

Power and phones were out for a week in places, and utility damage exceeded that caused by Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

Pleading for a merciful end to the snow? Save it. There has been just one snow-free March in Baltimore in 37 years. That was in 2000.

March is certain to bring spring, of course. The vernal equinox arrives at 8 p.m. March 20. But that's only on the calendar. Baltimore can even see snow in April.

The April Fools' Day Storm in 1924 dropped 9.4 inches on the city. Some prank. Only five dates in April have never seen snow.

We could list dates in May that have seen snow fall in Baltimore. But that would be cruel.

Postponed

Because of the recent snow, several Baltimore County public school events will not take place this weekend, although the Saturday High School at Towson High will be held as scheduled today.

The 2003 county High School Physics Olympics, which was to take place today at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has been postponed.

The Solo Ensemble Festival at Dumbarton Middle School and the Allfirst 24 Challenge Tournament at the Timonium Holiday Inn, both scheduled for today, also have been postponed. New dates were not announced.

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