Foot of snow falls on W. Md.

Wilma helps fuel nor'easter, leaving a heavy blanket on Garrett County

October 26, 2005|By CINDY STACY | CINDY STACY,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SWANTON -- Hurricane Wilma helped deliver the season's first dose of serious winter weather to Western Maryland yesterday: a foot of snow.

Nearly 12,000 homes lost electricity, and schools were closed yesterday and today in Garrett County, which bore the brunt of a nor'easter fueled by the hurricane sweeping up the Atlantic coast, officials said.

A spokesman for the area's power provider said customers could be without electricity for three days. The heavy snow -- not unusual in the state's westernmost county, though not often this early in the fall -- blanketed trees that have yet to shed their leaves, contributing to widespread power outages.

The snow fell throughout the day, accumulating up to 11 1/2 inches by 2 p.m. at the State Highway Administration office in Keysers Ridge, about 2,700 feet above sea level. The National Weather Service predicted another 2 to 4 inches by 10 p.m.

"I would imagine we may do a few records, if not come close to it," said Jackie Hale, a spokeswoman for the National Weather Service.

She said the storm, stemming from an upper-level, low-pressure system moving northeast out of the Ohio River valley, was reinforced by the hurricane as it moved north off the coast. Wilma's spinning action was pulling down cold air from Canada and mixing it with the hurricane's subtropical moisture, she said.

The slushy precipitation made driving difficult. State police reported several accidents, including a morning collision between a snow plow and a sport utility vehicle that closed a stretch of Route 55 near Frostburg for about two hours.

Sarah Duck, who usually welcomes snow as a publicist for the Wisp ski resort in McHenry, said she was huddled yesterday near the fireplace of her otherwise chilly house.

"Garrett County doesn't stop for a lot of things; no power will do it, though," she said.

Though rain and wet snow had been expected for the region, the intensity was not. Brad Frantz, Garrett County's director of emergency management, said the county received twice as much snow as predicted.

Officials opened two emergency shelters -- at the Friendsville and Deer Park fire halls -- for people without heat and power.

"And we'll open more wherever the need is," Frantz said.

Temperatures hovered at 32 degrees throughout yesterday, and the weather service forecast more snow showers for today, with temperatures reaching a high of 41.

The 72-bed Garrett County Memorial Hospital in Oakland, the county's only hospital, dealt with sporadic power outages, but backup generators allowed treatment of patients to continue without incident, said Sherie Helbig, the facility's plant operations coordinator.

The storm also hampered hunting in Garrett County on the second day of the black bear season. Seven kills had been registered by yesterday's deadline of 8 p.m., down from the first day's total of 15, said Paul Peditto, director of the Wildlife and Heritage Service at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

In Ocean City, parts of the beach were washed away as Wilma traveled by the coast of Maryland. Some downtown streets suffered minor flooding, but no homes or businesses were harmed, officials said. And in Baltimore, about a half-inch of rain fell.

Throughout Garrett, residents coped with the first taste of winter the best they could.

Buying milk at a convenience store in Swanton, logger Gerald Broadwater took the snowstorm in stride.

"I'll take snow any day instead of the 4 feet of water the people down South have to deal with. This is great."

The Associated Press and Sun reporter Nicole Fuller contributed to this article.

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