Wintry storm first serving of predicted double dose

Blanketing yesterday, second cover today

December 06, 2003|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

Baltimore had no time to recover from yesterday morning's inaugural winter storm before Mother Nature was set to strike again.

After six to nine inches of snow blanketed much of the region yesterday morning, shutting schools and shops and sending cars sliding, the National Weather Service was predicting that just as much or more would fall last night and today.

It was a surprise early start to winter for the second December in a row. The storm came a year to the day after last season's first snowfall.

"This is way too early to start the season, way too early," said Tim Burgess, Baltimore County's highways chief. "It just makes the winter so long."

The storm was a headache for everyone from snowplow drivers to the government officials who would have to pay them overtime despite emergency storm budgets depleted by Tropical Storm Isabel. Weekend plans - from the SAT administration at several Baltimore County high schools to Ellicott City's Midnight Madness festival - had to be postponed.

Even President Bush was inconvenienced. The weather caused the president to switch his mode of transportation for his trip to Baltimore. He was originally scheduled to helicopter in and out of town aboard Marine One. Instead, he rode in a motorcade up Interstate 95, which had to be shut down as he passed, leaving cars stacked up at the entrance ramps. He rode in a four-wheel-drive Suburban, rather than his usual limousine.

`Rather peculiar'

The storm was marked by its inconsistency and unpredictability. While Owings Mills and Reisterstown had three-quarters of a foot, Annapolis got nothing more than a morning dusting. No one was expecting more than a few inches.

But the mix of heavy snow in some areas and rainfall in others created slippery road conditions that caused dozens of fender-bender accidents and might have killed a Calvert County motorist.

Maude James Hall, 61, of Huntingtown, died shortly before 6 p.m. when he lost control of his 1977 Oldsmobile on Ponds Wood Road near Chesapeake Beach and struck a tree, said Calvert County Sherrif's Office spokesman Cpl. Tim Buckmaster. The exact cause of the accident was under investigation, police said.

Of the 82 traffic accidents reported in Baltimore by late last night, many were the result of slippery road conditions, city police said. In Baltimore County, the 20 accidents reported were about double the usual number, police said.

Police elsewhere also reported an increased number of fender benders, but no serious accidents. Howard County police reported 12 traffic accidents and 57 disabled cars and trucks. Carroll County had about 33 minor car crashes and received 39 calls for disabled vehicles.

Maj. Nick Paros of the state police said roads in Harford and Cecil counties were at times unusable.

"This storm was rather peculiar," said Chuck Gischlar, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration. "The forecast went up, went down, changed a thousand times. Ten miles can make all the difference, and one degree of temperature can make all the difference."

A narrow band of heavy snow fell west of Interstate 95, Gischlar said, pounding parts of Baltimore, Harford, Howard and Montgomery counties, where the highway administration had to plow roads many times throughout the day.

In Westminster, Gail Caples, 43, and her daughter, 21-year-old Jenn Caffey, were digging their cars out from under the snow for the second time yesterday afternoon.

Caples said she wanted to get ahead of the second storm, even if that meant shoveling three or four times.

"We figure we get everything cleared now and get ready for round two," she said.

In Baltimore County, 376 employees and contractors got to work salting and plowing at midnight yesterday. Most planned to work straight through the end of today's storm, because there are not enough people to change shifts, said Burgess, the highways chief. With 277 vehicles, his department is responsible for plowing 6,500 "lane miles" after each snow - 2,600 miles of road, most with multiple lanes.

The storm caused the cancellation of several blood drives and appointments at blood donor centers, causing the American Red Cross to issue a plea for donations over the weekend.

Travelers flying out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport experienced minor delays yesterday, but the airport remained open. Jonathan Dean, an airport spokesman, said he expected overnight snowfall to cause further delays.

Not expecting snow this early, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's office was planning a briefing on the city's snow preparations - for Dec. 12.

But at 10 p.m. Thursday, Baltimore activated its Emergency Operations Center, deploying 279 pieces of equipment to salt and clear the roads. By yesterday's morning commute, all the main roads had been salted several times.

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