Wintry Day 2 of spring likely

Snow, sleet, freezing rain are expected, but little accumulation


It could be winter's last gasp. Or a wet and sloppy welcome to spring 2006, which arrived just after lunchtime yesterday.

Whatever you label it, forecasters said the daylong snow, sleet and freezing rain they're expecting in Baltimore today doesn't look like much to worry about - an inch or two on the grass and little or no accumulation on the streets - barring any surprises.

Two to 4 inches are possible from Washington County west, with a possible impact on the morning commute.

"It is March, and there's no shock or surprise about this kind of weather through March," said Jackie Hale, a spokeswoman at the National Weather Service's Sterling, Va., forecast office.

"The good news is we have high pressure building in behind all this stuff," she said. "If we can get through Tuesday, we'll be fine."

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If you spent the weekend in the garden planting early flowers and veggies, there's no need to panic, the experts say.

"Any recent plantings will be something that's either dormant or hardy, and they can take the cold weather," said Dave Martin, an state agricultural extension educator for Baltimore County.

"Anything more delicate will have to wait until after the first frost-free date in the early part of May," he said.

Even winter-phobic Marylanders might be tough enough for this storm.

One low-pressure system was approaching from the Tennessee Valley overnight with plenty of moisture. Another was expected to develop off the Carolina coast. And the air in place over the Baltimore region seemed cold enough to make all that moisture fall as snow, sleet or freezing rain, forecasters said.

But snow depths should remain small, forecasters said. A wetter wintry mix will limit accumulations south of the city, while northern counties will be farther from the storm center, with less moisture available to fall as snow.

Area highways and the more heavily traveled streets should not accumulate enough snow or ice to tangle traffic.

"If we get any snow it looks like it will be mostly on the grass," Hale said. "The roads have been very warm. But that, too, could change if the breezes pick up and temperatures drop more than they're anticipating."

On the other hand, Hale added, "Anytime it snows and it's cold you've always got travel difficulties, and people should take that into consideration."

The weather news was more wintry in portions of the Midwest and the Ohio Valley.

Central Indiana was expecting as much as 8 inches of early spring snow from this storm, with up to 5 inches in parts of the Ohio Valley.

Earlier yesterday, parts of the Central Plains received more than a foot of snow from the same system.

Appearances notwithstanding, spring arrived yesterday with the vernal equinox, which occurred at 1:25 p.m.

That's the moment when the noonday sun crosses directly over the equator on its apparent trek northward with the season. The days begin to grow longer than the nights in the northern hemisphere. South of the equator this is the first full day of autumn, and the nights are overtaking the days.

Although clouds will obscure it, the sun will rise over Baltimore at 6:08 a.m. today and set at 6:19 p.m.

On April 2, we'll switch to daylight-saving time and push clocks ahead an hour. Although mornings will be darker for a while, we'll get an extra hour of daylight in the evening.

Snow is never out of the question in March. Baltimore's 123-year record of snow observations shows snow has fallen on every date of the month. The record for a March 21 in Baltimore was 9.7 inches, recorded in 1964.

More than 25 inches fell in March 1892. But the average is 2.4 inches, and there have been five years without a trace of March snow: 1903, 1921, 1945, 1966 and 2000.

Thanks to highs in the 70s and 80s at midmonth, March is running 2 1/2 degrees warmer than the average.

But the road ahead looks pretty cool, with daytime highs for the rest of the week only in the 30s and 40s, and lows below freezing. That's 10 to 20 degrees colder than the norm.

Martin said any fruit trees that blossomed after last week's warm weather should be safe from the cold.

"As long as temperatures don't get down into the low or mid-20s, we're generally OK," he said. "It's those temperatures below 28 that we get very concerned about."

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