Snow refused to take a holiday

WAY BACK WHEN

Back story

November 26, 2005|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN,SUN REPORTER

Winter got off to a quick start in 1974, when a snowstorm a week before Thanksgiving dumped 8 inches of snow in Garrett County, closing schools and making driving hazardous.

Snow flurries from the storm were reported in Baltimore and as far south as Leonardtown, while 25- to 40-knot winds whipped up bay waters into 4-foot waves.

An ominous forecast in The Evening Sun warned Thanksgiving weekend travelers of an "advisory over extreme Western Maryland tonight and Sunday."

It continued: "Increasing cloudiness today with highs around 40 except in the 30s over western portion. Rain developing tonight and spreading over the state on Sunday. Expect snow in the mountains accumulating 2 to 4 inches."

Snow started falling at 11 p.m. Saturday, and by Sunday morning, the early winter storm was well under way, with holiday travelers experiencing heavy going on U.S. 40 west of Cumberland.

Keysers Ridge, Grantsville, LaVale and Frostburg were particularly hard hit, as U.S. 40 eventually disappeared under 24 to 32 inches of drifting snow that stranded more than 1,000 cars and trucks.

In the midst of the storm, lightning struck a Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. relay station, which knocked out long-distance phone service, while utility poles felled by the heavy snow plunged much of the area into darkness.

Also stranded were two veteran Evening Sun sports columnists, Bill Burton and Phil Jackman, native New Englanders used to big snowstorms, who were in Western Maryland to cover the opening of the deer season.

"Telephones were out and power, too, throughout much of Allegany, Garrett and Washington counties and communication was strictly by mouth," reported Jackman.

Hundreds of hunters sought refuge wherever they could to ride out the storm.

"That's the thing about hunters. They are notorious for getting together for a week in the late fall to lie to each other, perhaps turn a card or two, work in a drink and maybe even eat," reported Jackman.

Bette Levin was returning to Baltimore with her husband, Ben, and daughter, Judith, after a Thanksgiving weekend trip to relatives in Athens, Ohio, when they became stuck in the snow at Keysers Ridge.

"Along the roads were only a few houses here and there, and from the car we could see people through their windows, looking perfectly normal sitting in their cozy living rooms while we sat apprehensive in our car, not knowing how we'd come out of this," Bette Levin told The Sun.

With the nearest town 4 miles away, the Levin's decided not to walk and remained in their car.

"As it got colder, we began piling on layers of clothing. Fortunately, we had our suitcases in the car, so Ben put on extra pairs of pants, and we wound pajamas into turbans to keep our heads warm and we wore socks on our hands as gloves," she said.

The family's food was several packages of peanut butter crackers and leftover doughnuts from breakfast. A plastic bucket was used for sanitary needs.

As night fell and the storm continued to rage, the family snuggled together in the front seat of their car and wondered what tomorrow would bring. They did not turn on the car's engine in order to conserve fuel, and they kept the radio off for fear of running down the battery.

"It was bitterly cold, and as we dozed off, we remembered that the way you froze to death was by dozing off, so we wondered whether we would ever wake up again," she said.

State Highway Administration snow removal crews battling drifts were joined in their efforts to open U.S. 40 by National Guard units sent to the scene by Gov. Marvin Mandel.

By Monday, most of the stranded motorists had been rescued, including the Levin family, who had been dug out by two men, and sent on their way to Grantsville where they warmed up at the local volunteer fire department and were given hot coffee and sandwiches.

Others who had been rescued from their vehicles took up temporary residence in roadside restaurants, schools, motels, firehouses and private residences waiting until snow-removal crews finished their work. Snowmobilers brought in milk, bread and other needed supplies to rescue centers.

Burton and Jackman reported that 10 miles east of Frostburg, there was "nothing."

"A normal day in the late fall. Cold, but well above freezing and sunny. Ten feet west of here, a completely different picture. Cold. Below freezing," they wrote.

It wasn't until three days later that roads were finally opened.

The storm, which raged across much of the Northeast, had succeeded in disrupting travel from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic.

During the height of the storm Sunday, a Trans World Airlines 727 slammed into Mount Weather, a 1,754-foot mountain near Upperville, Va., in the Appalachian foothills, killing 92.

Another plane, a Northwest Orient Airlines charter, also a 727, crashed at Stony Point, N.Y., killing its crew of three. The plane, en route to Buffalo, was to have picked up the Baltimore Colts football team for a return flight.

"It has been a crazy start to the whitetail season that promises many more surprises both outside the deer camps, and inside where the snowbound victims are getting restless," reported Burton.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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