Storm may put commute on ice

Up to 8 inches of snow expected as temperatures remain in 20s, low 30s

`Freezing rain at rush hour'

Winter storm blamed for 15 deaths nationwide

January 26, 2004|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

A winter storm that forecasters said could bring as much as 8 inches of snow to the Baltimore area - and follow up with a dose of freezing drizzle - threatened to create a mess on the highways for today's morning and evening rush hours.

As snow began falling across much of Maryland and encircled Baltimore late last night, city officials announced the first of what likely would be many area cancellations - trash pickup - and several schools systems decided to close.

"It could get messy before this is over," Luis Rosa, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., said of a storm that would be the biggest of the season if it lives up to expectations.

By 10 o'clock last night, as the first flakes reached the ground in the city, 3 inches had coated Southern Maryland, according to state police - and the school systems in Calvert and St. Mary's counties announced they would be closed today. Forecasts for Western Maryland, where 4 inches had fallen, said even higher totals were possible.

And to make matters worse, a 30 percent chance of snow showers was predicted for tomorrow and Wednesday - and little sunshine was expected until the weekend, forecasters said.

Winter storm warnings were issued yesterday for Maryland and Delaware in expectation of severe conditions, including nighttime temperatures in the teens and potentially heavy snowfall.

Meteorologists said that the storm - a wet system from the Gulf of Mexico that "collided" with a mass of Arctic air over Maryland - could dump enough snow to best the storm that blanketed the region with 6 inches of snow Dec. 5 and 6.

The storm that hit yesterday was part of a larger, complex system that has been blamed for the deaths of at least 15 people: six in Missouri, two in Nebraska, one in Kansas, one in West Virginia, one in Ohio and four in North Carolina.

In North Carolina, which reported snow showers, temperatures dropped to 20 degrees yesterday from Saturday's balmy high of 60. As of midafternoon yesterday, state troopers had responded to about 2,000 traffic accidents, officials said.

Parts of the Northeast will also be affected by the storm, forecasters said. In New York City, light snow, possibly mixed with sleet, was likely through tomorrow morning. In Philadelphia, 2 to 4 inches of snow overnight was expected to be followed by the freezing drizzle.

"This is traditionally the coldest part of the year," said Andy Woodcock, a meteorologist with the weather service. "But it's colder than normal, which is an essential ingredient if you're going to have a lot of snow."

Before the storm hit yesterday, and as winter storm warnings flashed on television screens, Marylanders braced for the possibility that they might have to make alternate plans for children and morning meetings today.

In Westminster, snow removal company owner Christian Hoffman was preparing for whatever the storm might bring.

"I have called everyone and told them to expect to start work at 4:30 a.m.," said Hoffman, the co-owner of Brooke Valley Landscapes Inc.

Hoffman said that about 80 business owners will be depending on him and his crews to clear snow and spread salt on parking lots. A mechanic worked all day yesterday to make sure that plow pins were secure and salt bags loaded.

Hoffman spent most of the day checking the weather report. He said he made the decision to call his crews for duty in the early afternoon, when it became clear that snow would fall followed by frozen rain.

"Ordinarily, the worst thing is if the snow comes down at rush hour," said Hoffman, who has more than 20 years' experience in the snow removal business. "In this case, it will be freezing rain at rush hour, and that's the only thing that is worse."

On a larger scale, state road crews were also preparing for the worst, said Sandra Dobson, a spokeswoman for the State Highway Administration. Dobson said that 2,000 workers manning plows, salt trucks and other emergency equipment, and 600,000 tons of salt would be available for the battle to keep roads open.

Even the most dire forecasts for today pale against the memory of last February's 28.2-inch record snowfall, and Dobson said crews that could handle that storm should have comparatively little trouble clearing this one.

For their part, state police reminded motorists to use extreme caution when driving on icy roads.

Police recommended that commuters delay trips to work in the morning, if possible, to give road crews more time to clear snow and ice.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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