Snowstorm packs an unexpected punch

Up to 8 inches may accumulate, despite earlier forecast of a dusting

January 30, 2010|By Sam Sessa | sam.sessa@baltsun.com

A snowstorm intended for Southern Maryland turned north Saturday, snarling traffic and causing many to unexpectedly scrap their weekend plans.

By mid-afternoon Saturday, the weather system had dropped four inches in Baltimore and more in Salisbury and Ocean City, according to the National Weather Service. Though BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport remained open with few delays and cancellations, traffic on Interstate 95 and other major roads slowed to a crawl in certain areas.

"Roadway conditions are not ideal," Lora Rakowski, a spokeswoman for the State Highway Administration, said Saturday afternoon. "Folks are urged not to travel if possible, or to delay travel. It's certainly not a day to consider a leisure ride or run errands that could wait," Rakowski said.

The SHA, which had only expected a dusting of snow at first, ended up dispatching 1,600 trucks to salt and plow state roads when the storm hit, Rakowski said. Sporadic spinouts and fender benders dotted the highways, and in many cases, cars crawled along at 15 to 30 mph.

"A couple days ago, we did not have as much snow in the forecast as we do now," said Brian Lasorsa, a spokesman for the National Weather Service. "The storm track tweaked up north just a little bit. ... That's why you've got several inches of snow."

In Annapolis, a city with narrow streets and sparse parking, officials were braced for up to eight inches of snow by Sunday morning. Mayor Joshua J. Cohen declared a snow emergency, ordering vehicles parked on emergency snow routes to be moved and allowing those cars to park free in the city's Gott's, Hillman and Knighton garages and the City Dock parking lot until 1 p.m. Sunday.

The historic capital was also dealing with an influx of visitors, as Polar Bear Plunge fundraiser participants poured into Marine Corps Stadium to take shuttles to the bay site. Though the city was putting down salt to get ahead of the storm, the influx of plunge participants "brought everything down to a crawl around the stadium," said Phill McGowan, Annapolis spokesman.

City officials had initially anticipated only an inch of snow, but were surprised Saturday to learn that as much as eight inches could accumulate by Sunday morning, he said.

"Eight times as much snow as you were expecting, in 12 hours, is kind of an eye-opener," McGowan said.

Many who had plans to attend the Polar Bear Plunge the Maryland State Police fundraiser for the Special Olympics were delayed by the snowy roads and highways on the way to Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis.

Jerick Chavez, 27, of Glen Burnie, made the trip with friends and had hoped to make the 1 p.m. plunge in the Chesapeake Bay. But delays on I-97 tied them up in traffic and they arrived at 1:15 p.m. A second plunge, slated for 3 p.m., was canceled due to the frigid temperatures.

"We're quite disappointed," said Chavez, who works as a Prince George's County police officer. "It would've been a perfect day for a plunge."

In Baltimore, Greg Kendig couldn't have been less prepared for snow. In the final leg of his trip from Tennessee to see friends in Baltimore, where he used to live, he practically slid in his rental car or sled as he's now calling it all the way from Annapolis to Butchers Hill.

Kendig's nice brown shoes were covered in slush and he'd just made an unplanned stop at the Royal Farms to buy a snow brush.

"Other cars were spinning around all around us," he said of the rather harrowing ride. "We were OK in this trusty sled."

Baltimore Sun reporters Gus Sentementes and Jill Rosen contributed to this article.

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