Winter returns for an encore

Weather: The cold, rain and snow didn't stop area residents from participating in outdoor events.

March 31, 2003|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

Just as Marylanders had begun to celebrate spring, wintry weather crashed the party yesterday with an encore appearance that dumped a mix of snow and sleet on the region - the day before Baltimore's baseball opener.

Portions of Frederick and Washington counties collected up to 5 inches of snow, with the heaviest totals in mountainous areas. State police reported a number of weather-related accidents, though none serious, along Interstate 270 in Montgomery County.

Baltimore saw a mixture of sleet, snow, rain and wind - an unwelcome reminder of the area's coldest winter in a quarter-century.

"I didn't believe it until I saw it," said Bob Salmond, green goods manager at Watson's Garden Center in Lutherville. "We have pansies and stuff that can handle the cold."

The frozen mix was generally more of a nuisance than a hazard, dampening a number of outdoor events meant to herald the arrival of spring.

And talk about having rain on your parade - umbrellas and Greek flags were the order of the day as hundreds, including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Mayor Martin O'Malley, marched in the Greek Independence Day celebration in Baltimore's Greektown.

"It snowed. It rained. But we had blue-and-white umbrellas - matching the colors of the Greek flag - and the power elite was there," said parade publicist Gayle V. Economos.

At Camden Yards, Orioles pitchers blew on their hands to keep warm as they lobbed balls in the outfield and wet snow fell. The infield was covered by a tarpaulin, limiting the team's workout on the day before its Opening Day game this afternoon against the Cleveland Indians.

"They should have stayed in Florida an extra week or two," said meteorologist Jim DeCarufel of the National Weather Service. "That's what they get for starting in March. People may be brushing slush off their seats."

Today's forecast calls for partly cloudy and breezy conditions with temperatures in the low to middle 40s. Temperatures are to rise steadily during the week, climbing into the low 70s by Thursday.

That's good news for garden centers like Watson's and Cockeysville's Valley View Farms, where the cold and snow - though it didn't stick - meant that business "was much slower than normal," said Julie Glass, one of the managers at Valley View.

The weather forced indoors an annual rite of the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington: a ceremony marking the lighting of a 350-year-old stone lantern. The event, featuring Japanese performers and 70 cherry blossom princesses, was held at a Washington hotel.

Those who did venture to the Tidal Basin saw the blossoms just beginning to bloom. The blossoms are predicted to peak April 4 to April 12, despite yesterday's return to winter-like conditions.

"Hearty" was the description used by event organizers to describe the hundreds of people - and their drenched dogs - who ventured to the March for the Animals benefit for the Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

A brochure had promised the event would be held "even if it's raining cats and dogs." The dogs - particularly the huskies - seemed to endure the elements better than their owners during the 1.5-mile walk that began at the Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus.

"She likes it kind of cool anyways," Liz Rubalcaba, a Johns Hopkins lab technician, said of Lucy, her dripping, 4-year-old Australian shepherd.

Many of the owners outfitted their dogs to keep them warm.

There were poodles in sweaters, coonhounds in sweat shirts and corgis in yellow rain slickers. "Everybody has them in a T-shirt or a coat. It's so sweet," said Aileen O. Gabbey, executive director of the state SPCA.

"Even the macho dogs are dressed," she said.

It was that kind of day.

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