Howard suburb digs being center of snowfall

February 14, 2006|By TYRONE RICHARDSON | TYRONE RICHARDSON,SUN REPORTER

Columbia Hills is a typical suburban enclave of 270 homes clustered around cul-de-sacs straddling the border of Ellicott City and Columbia.

But for a few very blustery hours, the area was the epicenter of the weekend's fierce snowstorm.

National Weather Service forecasters at Sterling, Va., recorded 22.5 inches of snow from the agency's weather station in Columbia Hills on Sunday, the most for any station in the state during the storm. The total exceeds the average of 17.8 inches Baltimore receives for an entire winter and neared the historic totals that drubbed the Northeast during the storm.

The accumulation is also almost twice the state's official total of 13.1 inches recorded 10 miles down the road at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport - a snowfall vagary that experts say is common in nor'easters such as the one that hit Saturday and Sunday.

Columbia Hills residents who were still cleaning up yesterday took the news of their new status in stride.

Rick Mandelson, a 67-year-old professional race car driver and retired state worker who has lived in the Howard County neighborhood since 1966, said he had seen plenty of worse storms in the years he spent in Utah. And even the weekend's big blow, while considerable, didn't seem the worst he can remember in Maryland.

"It wasn't no big deal," Mandelson said as he coaxed his snowblower to life. "It was a heavy snow that just compacted very easily, and it was good for snowmen, but not so good for the snowblower."

The weather service would not, for privacy reasons, identify the data collector who recorded the total for Columbia Hills. But they said they train a corps of volunteers around the state to take such readings and believe it to be accurate.

Snowfalls varied widely across the region. Columbia, just the south, recorded 21.3 inches. Nearby Savage recorded 14.3 inches. Davidson, in Southern Maryland, recorded only 6.3 inches.

"These types of storms start small bands of intense snow storms and the amount of snowfall can vary over a short distance," said David Manning, a meteorologist with the regional National Weather Service office.

Louis W. Uccellini, director of the National Center for Environmental Prediction in Camp Springs, watched the storm from his home in Columbia, occasionally consulting his computer.

"We couldn't see across the street for about a two-hour period," he said. "I have lived in that house for almost 28 years now, and it is the heaviest I've seen it snow for that long a period."

Between 1:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., he said, "I personally measured 7.5 inches of [new] snow. Yes, I did stay up all night. It was a great event."

Richard and Maryln Ely of Columbia Hills said they noticed the variation in snowfall as they drove from their daughter's Clarksville house Saturday.

"It was just coming down fast and furious in some parts," Marlyn Ely said.

Columbia Association officials said the sports and fitness facilities remained open, including Supreme Sports Club, a 24-hour fitness facility.

"It wasn't a major disruption for us," said Robert D. Bellamy, the association's operations manager for the sport and fitness facilities divisions. "There were no major obstacles, and the timing of the storm worked best for us."

Howard County Department of Public Works Director James M. Irvin said that while Columbia and nearby Columbia Hills might have received more snow than other parts of the county, no additional crews were needed for the two areas.

County police said the storm did not cause many auto accidents.

"I think people wisely chose not to travel during the onset of the storm, and fortunately it occurred during the weekend," said Brandon Justice, a spokesman for Howard County police. "Fender-benders are not reported, and we did not have any serious or life-threatening injuries from the storm."

In Columbia Hills, children celebrated the day off from school by throwing snowballs, making snowmen, and whizzing down hills in tubes and sleighs. Mandelson shrugged his shoulders as he looked at the mounds of snow he was going to clear.

He said when he went to bed Saturday, he looked out and saw the dusting of snow and thought the storm had spared his community.

"The storm looked like it was going to go north and then south and we were not going to get hit," he said. "I went outside and I really could not believe it."

Eric Smith, president of the Columbia Hills/Meadowbrook Farm Community Association, said the snowfall was nice for the neighborhood and really did not affect many residents, other than those who dislike shoveling.

"It's actually pretty nice here, and the roads are all clear," he said.

He added jokingly: "It's good to be No. 1 for something. ... This will be an asset for our booming ski resort."

tyrone.richardson@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Laura Cadiz, Larry Carson and Frank D. Roylance contributed to this article.

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