Rain, sleet hinder travel

Md. air and road traffic are disrupted by a wintry storm

cold and snow showers will linger through the weekend

March 17, 2007|By Gadi Dechter and Frank Roylance | Gadi Dechter and Frank Roylance,Sun reporters

A record rainfall turned to heavy sleet last night, stranding spring break travelers at the airport and causing hundreds of car accidents - including a minor collision in Frederick County involving President Bush's motorcade.

The rain totals at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport topped 2.13 inches by 9 p.m. That broke the 131-year-old record of 1.14 inches for the date, set in 1876. It was the city's oldest daily rainfall record for March.

In western counties, as much as 10 inches of snow was possible before it all ended overnight, forecasters said. One or two inches of snow accumulation in Baltimore and Washington were also possible by morning, they said.

The storm was part of a powerful nor'easter that, in addition to coastal rain, was dropping heavy snow yesterday across interior portions of the Northeast from Virginia to Maine.

At 3 p.m., a sport utility vehicle at the rear of Bush's motorcade collided with a private car just south of the Urbana exit of Interstate 270 in Frederick County.

Both spun off the road and into the median strip. State police said there were no injuries.

The motorcade, including the vehicle in which the president was riding, did not stop and continued in steady snow to Camp David in Thurmont, where Bush plans to spend the weekend.

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said that the vehicle in the accident was "not in close proximity" to the one carrying Bush and that "the president is fine."

Most of the weather-related traffic accidents occurred outside the city, as freezing rain and snow created treacherous driving conditions.

On the Eastern Shore, a car slid off Route 21 in Kent County, killing one occupant, according to state police. A second person survived and was taken to a hospital, said Sgt. Anthony Rounds. No further details were immediately available.

In Baltimore County, emergency crews rescued a man trapped inside his car on southbound Interstate 83 near the Hereford area yesterday afternoon, after the car collided with a guardrail.

"The roads were just covered with ice," said Capt. Chris Lang of the Hereford Volunteer Fire Co. "He lost control and hit the guardrail."

Officials said the guardrail penetrated the man's car and pinned him near the vehicle's dashboard. It took about 15 minutes to extract him. He was taken to a nearby hospital with injuries that were not considered life-threatening.

In Carroll County, a school bus ran off the road and down an embankment about 1:30 p.m. near Manchester, state police said. No injuries were reported.

About three other school buses were involved in minor fender-benders in Carroll County, but no one was hurt, police said.

"It's like driving in a Slurpee," said Benton Watson, chief of the county roads bureau.

Schools in Carroll, Harford and Baltimore counties closed two hours early yesterday, as did some government offices.

Officially, BWI was "open and operating" through late yesterday evening, but many would-be travelers trying to reach spring break destinations were frustrated and dejected by dozens of flight cancellations.

"I'm trying to control my temper," said John Starr, a Washington surgeon whose family ski vacation was disrupted when his flight to Utah was canceled yesterday.

Speaking by phone from the Delta Airlines terminal, Starr described around him endless lines of families trying in vain to make alternate travel arrangements.

"I'm disgusted," said Starr, who grew up in snowy Buffalo, N.Y. "This is not weather. That's the age-old dodge of the airport."

Airport spokesman Jonathan Dean said the cancellations and scheduling difficulties were caused less by weather conditions in the Baltimore area than by problems at snowbound airfields to the north.

The abrupt shift in the weather began with a cold front that swept through the region Thursday, dropping temperatures in Baltimore from a record 83 degrees at BWI on Wednesday and 75 early Thursday afternoon to the mid-30s yesterday.

Behind the front came the rain, sleet and snow, intensified by a powerful storm that developed yesterday off the Atlantic Coast and drifted off toward the northeast.

A return flow of cold air will keep temperatures low in Maryland even after the storm moves away this weekend.

The forecast called for highs today only in the 30s, with some lingering snow showers possible. Temperatures are predicted to bounce back to about 50 by Monday.

Though the cold and snow are coming on the heels of more pleasant conditions, the storm system moving through the region is not unusual for this time of year, said Calvin Meadows of the National Weather Service

"I wouldn't say it's typical, but it is still winter," Meadows said.

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com frank.roylance@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Anica Butler, Laura McCandlish, David Nitkin and Nick Shields contributed to this article.

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