Thousands of Maryland residents are expected to remain without power this morning, and many school systems will be closed, after a weekend storm dumped more than 20 inches of snow in some communities by early yesterday.
The wet, dense snow - in quantities that varied widely across Central Maryland - toppled trees and mangled shrubbery as the powerful storm raced to the northeast to paralyze New York and much of New England.
At least 150,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers lost power yesterday, and thousands were expected to still be in the dark today - more than half of them in Anne Arundel County, where officials set up an emergency shelter last night.
"At this point, we believe there will be customers who will not have their power until late Tuesday night," said BGE spokesman Robert L. Gould.
State police said the snow might have been a factor in at least one highway accident that claimed the life of a Cecil County woman driving north yesterday morning on Interstate 95 near North East.
Meteorologists called it one of the top 20 snowstorms in Maryland's history, with Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport reporting 13.1 inches, and Columbia and Randallstown each socked with more than 20 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
"This storm was a significant snowfall event," said David Manning, a meteorologist with the regional National Weather Service office in Sterling, Va.
It set a snowfall record at BWI - at least for Feb. 12 - in topping the 6 inches that fell in 1979.
Officials announced that public schools would be closed today in Baltimore and in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Cecil, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties because of the snow. Several other systems announced they would have delayed openings, and others had not announced decisions.
But for many, the wintry weather wasn't a serious inconvenience yesterday. Without a rush-hour commute to contend with, crews were able to plow roads more efficiently, and a ban on nonemergency traffic on state highways was lifted by 9 a.m., officials said.
"Turns out, there was no reason to stay in," said Sonny Leonardi, a 65-year-old Sykesville resident who along with his wife, Winnie, nearly canceled plans to attend the Motor Trend International Auto Show at the Baltimore Convention Center.
Instead - bucking the panic that often grips the region at the mere mention of snow - the two ventured out.
"We said, `What else are we going to do?'"
But while some were taking the storm in stride, thousands had no electricity. BGE crews struggled to remove branches - and in some cases, entire trees - that blocked access to downed power lines throughout the region.
In response, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens activated an emergency operations center yesterday, and the county opened a shelter at the Earleigh Heights fire station on Ritchie Highway for people needing a warm place to stay.
Owens, who was without power herself, said about 60 cots had been set up at the fire station.
"We wanted to make available a centrally located place in case particularly young and elderly people need a safe haven," Owens said, adding, "We thought we had gotten through the winter with no major problems."
The storm brought an uneven cover to much of Central Maryland, with Baltimore reporting 13 1/2 to 15 inches, Columbia receiving 21.3 inches and other areas, such as Severna Park, coming up with about 10 1/2 inches, according to weather service reports.
The inconsistencies were caused by large swaths of especially heavy snowfall that meteorologists said are common in storms with rapidly deepening low-pressure systems. In some cases, they said, snow was so heavy that thunder was reported.
Snow began falling Saturday afternoon and continued into yesterday morning, ending a spell of unusually warm weather - including temperatures reaching the 60s - that had graced Baltimore and other East Coast cities for weeks. Temperatures today were expected to reach the upper 30s, under partly cloudy skies.
The snow - too wet to blow around - settled from its weight by afternoon into conditions ideal for building snow sculptures or whizzing downhill.
At Federal Hill Park, a group of students from the Peabody Institute packed together a ramp using snow and "borrowed" cafeteria trays, then trudged back up the hill to eye their handiwork.
Daniel Butman, 20, took a few steps back, then slid head-first down the slope on a toboggan, gaining speed before leveling out and hitting the ramp. Moments later, after crash-landing into soft snow, his head popped up. "It's much better!" he said of the slope.
At BWI, many early flights were canceled, but planes began departing on time in the afternoon, officials said. Most flights to the Northeast were canceled or delayed, including trips to harder-hit New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Newark, N.J., said airport spokesman Jonathan Dean.