Icy roads a concern in wake of storm

`Freeze-over' could turn morning rush into a slide

More rain forecast this week

December 15, 2003|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

The second winter storm in little more than a week dropped 1 to 5 inches of snow on the Baltimore region early yesterday, coating roads with a slick layer of ice and slush.

The storm caused few serious problems before turning to rain late in the morning. But transportation officials warned that wet roads and falling temperatures overnight might complicate today's morning commute.

"Our main concern ... is freeze-over," said Lora Rakowski, a State Highway Administration spokeswoman. Highway officials planned to watch the road temperatures overnight and "saturate" the pavement with salt. But Rakowski cautioned motorists to be "extra careful."

Forecasters said more rain is on the way.

"Come Wednesday and Thursday, it's `Oh my gosh, here we go again,' " said Jim DeCarufel, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's forecast office in Sterling. Va.

That storm could bring an inch or more, threatening a 114-year-old record for annual precipitation in Baltimore.

The bad weather arrived yesterday in the Baltimore region after 3 a.m. as a storm system that had been centered over the Florida panhandle Saturday night moved up the East Coast. Tapping into Atlantic moisture, the storm intensified and dumped its heaviest load of snow from western Pennsylvania to northern Maine.

Accumulations up to 2 feet were expected in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania before it ended overnight, 6 to 12 inches in portions of New Jersey and 4 to 7 inches in southeastern Pennsylvania.

In Maryland, winter storm warnings were issued from Carroll County west. Winter weather advisories for lesser amounts of snow, freezing rain, sleet and rain were posted for the Baltimore and Washington suburbs. The advisories were canceled as it all turned to rain during the day.

Before the changeover, 5 inches of snow had fallen in Clarksville in Howard County. About 3 to 4 inches fell in parts of Montgomery and Washington counties. Two inches had fallen in the Harford County community of Street by 8:20 a.m.

In Western Maryland, the snow started just after midnight and was still falling at sunset. More than 9 inches had fallen in Allegany County, causing dozens of accidents, none serious, said 1st Sgt. R.S. Wininger, of the state police barracks at Cumberland. "We'll send a trooper to the interstate, and every couple of miles there'll be a car in a ditch or off the roadway."

State and local road crews in the Baltimore area took the foul weather in stride, spreading salt and scraping much of the slush away amid light Sunday-morning traffic.

Motorists and pedestrians who ventured out early encountered slushy, rutted conditions. "This is definitely a day when you want both hands on the steering wheel," Rakowski, said.

Police officials across the state reported fender benders and spinouts, but no major accidents. "It's messy, but it's nothing we can't cope with," said Baltimore County police Sgt. Edward Forbes.

Rakowski said most roads were in good condition by lunchtime, and crews were primarily doing cleanup -- pushing slush from the roadways.

The 3 inches of snow that fell at Baltimore-Washington International Airport by 8 a.m. raised the total there for this month to 9.8 inches (although locations north and west of the city have seen more).

The tally at BWI -- the area's station of record since 1950 -- is five times the average for this month -- making it the snowiest December since 1989, with two weeks to go. The record December snowfall in Baltimore is 20.4 inches, set in 1966.

It has been a nasty month, capping a wet year. Twin snowstorms struck Dec. 5 and 6, and together delivered 6.8 inches at BWI.

That was followed by more than 1 1/4 inches of rain Wednesday and Thursday. Along with melting snow cover, the downpour flooded many area rivers and streams. High water closed numerous low-lying roads. Several stranded motorists had to be rescued.

Forecasters said there is no more snow in the immediate future, but warned the new system could bring 1 to 2 inches of rain to the region and cause flooding Wednesday and Thursday.

"That brings more [motorists] trying to cross flooded roads," said DeCarufel. The weather service says most flooding deaths occur when cars are floated by a few inches of water and swept away.

The approaching rainstorm will likely push precipitation totals for this year over the all-time record for Baltimore -- 62.35 inches recorded in 1889. The total at midafternoon yesterday stood at 61.01 inches.

The average annual precipitation for Baltimore from 1970 to 2000 was 41.95 inches.

And there's no end in sight. The region remains beneath a persistent jet stream that has been delivering a succession of soggy storms from the Gulf Coast.

"Right now, it doesn't look like the conveyor belt is going to be taking a big break," DeCarufel said.

Sun staff writer Lisa Goldberg contributed to this article.

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