A hazardous mix of freezing rain, sleet and snow fell across the Baltimore region yesterday and into this morning, threatening to create dangerously icy roadways for the early commute.
Two inches of snow and about a half-inch of ice were expected to accumulate, with temperatures plummeting into the teens and wind gusts topping 40 mph by the storm's end this evening, according to forecasts.
Most public school systems around the region dismissed children hours early yesterday in anticipation of the storm, and Carroll County simply closed schools for the day - with the status of school openings across much of the state uncertain today.
"It could end up being a very bad ice storm - trees down and power lines down," said Jeff Warner, a meteorologist with Penn State Weather Communications Group at State College, Pa.
Flight delays and cancellations mounted at BWI Marshall Airport, a spokesman said.
The Maryland Transit Administration warned that some of its bus routes and light rail trains might face delays or cancellations this morning, and said that because of anticipated adverse weather conditions, MARC trains will operate on an "S" schedule.
At the Maryland House rest area off Interstate 95 in Harford County, members of the Blessington family of Middletown, N.Y., were among a handful of travelers taking an afternoon break from the perilous road conditions.
"If we didn't have to, we wouldn't have picked today to make this trip," said Kathy Blessington, heading with her husband, Paul, and son, Chris, to Venice, Fla., for a relative's funeral.
Rich and Fran Howarth of Gilbertsville, Pa., spent the entire day traveling icy Interstate 95 on a work-related trip to Washington.
"They're doing a good job putting salt on the roads," Rich Howarth said. "But every so often, you get that accordion effect. Cars speed up and then slow down all of a sudden. It's taking a long time."
While drivers navigated through what fell on roads, low temperatures continued to affect pipes and conduits underground.
Water mains in the Baltimore area are failing three times as often as is usual for this time of year, and George L. Winfield, director of the city Department of Public Works, said work crews will be on 16-hour shifts starting today to address a backlog of about 80 water main breaks.
"It wreaks havoc on our underground utilities," Winfield said of the cold.
Baltimore's water distribution system - which covers Baltimore and portions of Baltimore County - includes about 3,400 miles of main pipes, some more than a century old. Most of the pipe failures occur because they expand and contract with variations in temperature. Winfield said 23 crews are working to fix the backlog, which he said he hopes to have cleared in a couple of days.
Today, as a secondary storm center is expected to begin spinning off the Carolina coast, winds are expected to pick up, drawing arctic air southward into the region. Temperatures will drop, forecasters said, and could turn any lingering freezing rain into a brief, but possibly intense period of snow sometime after the morning rush - "a surprise inch or two" as the storm finally moves away from the region, Warner said.
"People might not be prepared for that side of the storm," he added.
Yesterday's wintry weather began with light snow that started falling shortly before 5 a.m. at BWI. Temperatures then began a slow morning slide into the upper 20s as arctic air seeped in from the north.
Snow totals by early afternoon reached 5 inches at Mount Savage in Allegany County, 3 inches in Frostburg and 1.3 inches in Hunt Valley, according to the National Weather Service.
Sun reporters Frank Roylance, Kelly Brewington and John Fritze contributed to this article.