Winds reach up to 56 mph, downing trees, power lines

Traffic, school, firefighting disrupted as cold moves in

December 02, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Strong rain followed by wind gusts of up to 56 mph created havoc for Baltimore-area residents yesterday, knocking out power to tens of thousands, halting Inner Harbor water taxi service, causing thousands of children to leave school early and forcing librarians in Hereford to check books out the old-fashioned way.

The blustery weather, which meteorologists say is a sure sign of winter's arrival, left about 119,000 customers in the region without power at the height of the outages in the early afternoon, according to Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.By late last night , about 16,000 were still without power, according to the company's Web site.

More than 200 BGE crew members were expected to work around the clock to restore power, Foy said. Most of the outages occurred in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, and full service was not expected to be restored until late tonight.

The ground was already soaked with rain this week, leaving trees susceptible to high winds, Foy said.

"Wind can be as damaging to the system as rain and other types of weather," she said.

The high winds led to close calls for area firefighters.

In Anne Arundel, two county firefighters were trapped in an emergency vehicle while responding to a call when power lines fell onto their truck in Pasadena, said Division Chief John M. Scholz, a Fire Department spokesman. The firefighters had to wait inside the fire engine at Jumpers Hole Road for 30 minutes while an emergency crew removed the live wires.

In Baltimore, two city firefighters were briefly trapped in a basement of a Northwest Baltimore home when power lines downed by a tree caught fire, officials said.

The firefighters were inspecting the house in the 3400 block of Virginia Ave. when fire engulfed the first floor. The firefighters fought the blaze in the basement for less than five minutes until they were able to get out of the house, said Kevin Cartwright, a department spokesman.

No one was injured, he said.

In Havre de Grace, a wind-whipped blaze engulfed a three-story wood-frame house containing five apartments. The fire, which started about 5 p.m. and quickly went to three alarms, caused no injuries.

Brian Guyer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said a strong cold front from the southeast brought rain and high winds. Gusts of 56 mph were recorded at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and up to 48 mph in Frederick, Guyer said.

"When you get a strong cold front like this, especially now on Dec. 1, winter's coming," he said. "It's the first day of meteorological winter. It's interesting that on the first day of winter on our calendar, we get a nasty cold front with high winds."

While astronomical winter begins Dec. 21, the winter solstice, meteorological winter is marked by the onset of winter-like weather conditions, and is considered to begin in much of the continental United States on Dec. 1.

The rain led to a stressful morning commute as slick roads caused the normal complement of fender benders and traffic tie-ups. By late morning, the sky had cleared, but the strong winds also created hazardous road conditions - and other problems, such as alarm bells ringing because of power interruptions and trash cans tumbling onto streets.

The high winds prompted Ed Kane's Water Taxis to pull its boats off the Inner Harbor about noon, said Cameron Kane, owner of the water taxi company. A boat operated by another company capsized during a violent, sudden storm in March, killing five passengers.

"We closed," she said. "Predictions were for 30- to 35-mph gusts."

At BWI, commercial planes were arriving and departing on one of two runways, causing scattered delays. By yesterday evening, operations were back to normal, said spokeswoman Cheryl Stewart.

Shortly after 1 p.m., Baltimore County announced it would close its schools an hour early because about 20 of them had lost electricity. Officials also canceled all after-school activities and evening classes, said school system spokesman Charles A. Herndon.

The Hereford library branch in northern Baltimore County also lost power, forcing librarians to prop open electric doors and check out books by the sunlight. The librarians planned to enter checkout information into the computer system later.

Five schools in Howard County lost electricity, but the county did not close its schools early, officials said.

Downed trees and power lines snarled traffic and closed roads throughout the region.

In Carroll County, police directed traffic for more than an hour yesterday morning when at least three traffic lights were knocked out in downtown Westminster.

About 30 trees toppled in Baltimore County, and highway crews were forced to close at least two roads because of downed trees and power lines, said David Fidler, a county public works spokesman.

Sun staff writers Sarah Schaffer, Sara Neufeld, Ryan Davis, Gus Sentementes, Laura Barnhardt, Sheridan Lyons, Laura Vozzella, Richard Irwin and Lynn Anderson contributed to this article.

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