Snowfall turns out not as bad as forecast

Few flakes stick, but more is predicted for Thursday

December 06, 2005|By NICOLE FULLER | NICOLE FULLER,SUN REPORTER

The snow fell. But for the most part, it didn't really stick.

The Baltimore metropolitan area's first snowfall of the season -- where some predictions called for as much as 6 inches -- fell short of expectations yesterday as most of the precipitation melted upon landing on the roads, sparing many commuters an agonizing drive home during evening rush hour.

"I'm not expecting any significant accumulation," said Steven Zubrick, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va. "This is the type of early season storm where you get a lot of accumulation in grassy areas. The roadways were fairly warm. So anything that fell on the road has pretty much melted."

The snow began falling about 2 p.m. at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. But it came in fits and starts. By 4 p.m. it was snowing heavily in the city, putting a dusting on trees and cars. But a half-hour later, it had stopped. The heaviest snowfall was expected during the evening commute, with the storm tapering off after midnight.

The National Weather Service issued a snow watch Sunday evening for the Baltimore metropolitan area through 7 a.m. today. Forecasters predicted between 2 and 4 inches in Baltimore and the surrounding counties, with Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore expected to see up to 6 inches. By 7 p.m. yesterday, Zubrick reported, accumulations at BWI hovered at about a half-inch.

"I'm standing right here looking at the flight information monitors," said Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for BWI. "And by all accounts, operations are normal. To this point, it's been a pretty moderate snow event."

The Maryland State Highway Administration had 2,500 trucks available for salting and plowing. Last night, the state's roadways had been salted, but according to spokeswoman Sandra Dobson, plows weren't necessary because there was no significant accumulation.

"You can't plow what's not there," Dobson said. She did, however, warn of icy roads during the morning commute, as temperatures were expected to drop to the upper 20s during the night.

"As the temperatures drop, of course, there's a possibility of icing, and the roads can get more treacherous," Dobson said. "So we're telling people that they can stay home. There's no tips for driving on ice, except for not driving on ice. You can slide all the way down the Beltway if you're not careful."

"It's gonna get very cold behind this [storm]," said Brian Guyer, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. "And then we're setting up again for another possible light snow event Thursday night."

Many area school systems canceled after-school activities yesterday, including Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard and Harford counties, and Baltimore City. In Carroll County, after-school activities went on as scheduled, but snowplows were on standby throughout the evening.

"We are not expecting a lot of snow here," said Benton Watson, bureau chief of Carroll's roads department. "But we are keeping everybody here, not letting them go home."

The snowstorm began with a cold front, whose arrival on Saturday was marked by a minor burst of overnight snow, sleet and freezing rain.

Meteorologists say it's impossible to tell from the first few storms what sort of a winter snow season we're likely to experience.

And climatologists say their observations and past weather patterns provide no clear guidance for how this winter might play out for the region. The official winter forecast for the East Coast and the Deep South shows equal chances for above- or below-normal temperatures and precipitation.

Average December snowfall for BWI is 1.7 inches. The 30-year seasonal average is 18 inches.

For each of the past two winters, BWI has recorded 18 inches of snow. In 2002-03, the airport saw 58 inches, the second-highest seasonal total on record. (The winter before delivered just 2.3 inches of snow.) The snowiest winter on record for Baltimore was in 1995-96, when 62.5 inches fell at BWI. Meteorologists have kept snowfall records in Baltimore since the winter of 1883-84.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Frank D. Roylance and Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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