A snow for the books?

Near-blizzard may bring 2 feet or more to Md.

February 05, 2010|By Frank D. Roylance | Baltimore Sun reporter

Marylanders are bracing for as much as 2 feet of snow and near-blizzard conditions this weekend as the sixth snowfall of the season, and perhaps the second to top 20 inches, moves toward the region.

"This one is approaching historic proportions," said Bryan Jackson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Baltimore- Washington Forecast Office in Sterling, Va.

The snow was expected to start falling in Baltimore as early as late this morning. "Then, through the afternoon, conditions will be deteriorating. Right now, we're expecting the possibility of several inches on the ground by nightfall," Jackson said.

That would be a big problem for the evening rush hour - if there is anyone left on the roads by then. Anyone still struggling to get home could become a problem for highway crews working to stay ahead of the storm, Jackson said.

The heaviest snowfall is expected between 7 p.m. today and 7 a.m. Saturday, Jackson said, with rates of perhaps an inch or more an hour. That would drop another 10 to 12 inches overnight. Four to 6 more inches are likely to fall during the day and into the evening on Saturday.

The sun should come out on Sunday, but temperatures will struggle to reach the melting point. So whatever falls will stick around.

This snow is forecast to be a bit wetter and heavier than the relatively dry and fluffy December snowfall, said Ed McDonough, spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency. "So, while there were no weather-related outages in December, or few, we could conceivably have more with this storm."

BGE officials said hundreds of field and office personnel were on standby for repair duty. But customers were urged to prepare for extended outages if road conditions hamper work crews.

Heavier snow is also more dangerous to shovel because of the stress it puts on the back and especially the heart. A 1993 study in The New England Journal of Medicine looked at 1,228 heart-attack victims and found that out-of-shape people increased their risk of a heart attack a hundredfold when they shoveled snow. Regular exercisers merely doubled their risk.

Winter storm warnings were posted Thursday from southwestern Virginia through Maryland to New Jersey, and from southern Pennsylvania west to Indiana. They called for 18 to 24 inches of snow in Central Maryland.

Jackson said the chances that this storm will fizzle are slim. Some places could see more snow than is forecast.

"We've got 100 percent confidence we'll get snow and just about as much confidence we'll get a significant amount of snowfall," he said. "The I-95 corridor is looking to be right in the thick of the heaviest snow."

Blizzard warnings were issued Thursday for the coastal counties of Delaware and New Jersey. Parts of Virginia were warned to expect as much as 28 inches of snow.

McDonough said winds will be higher closer to the Chesapeake and the Atlantic coast. Coastal flood advisories are up for Maryland as northeast winds drive tides 2 feet to 3 feet above normal. Forecasters told state emergency managers Thursday that blizzard warnings could be posted for Maryland's eastern counties before the storm.

"The snow will be a little heavier, and there may be more sleet and rain on the lower Eastern Shore," McDonough said. But in terms of snow depth west of the bay, he said, "this forecast sounds amazingly similar to the things we were hearing the day before the last storm" in December.

If the weekend snowfall does top 20 inches in Baltimore by the time it ends Saturday evening, it would be the first time the city has recorded two 20-inch storms in one season since the first official snow totals were recorded here in 1883.

The area has never even had two 12-inch storms in the same season, said Jared Klein, a National Weather Service forecaster at the Sterling office. He scoured the record books and concluded that the closest the area has come was in 1996. After the historic 26.6-inch storm on Jan. 7-9 that year, the city got 10.5 inches Feb. 15 and 16.

Seven weeks ago, Baltimoreans were walloped by a storm that left 21.1 inches on the ground at BWI. It was the biggest December snow on record for the city, and it made that month the snowiest and wettest December on the books.

Until the snow starts to fly today, the season's total for Baltimore stands at 35.6 inches of snow, nearly twice the annual average. That makes this the snowiest winter since 2002-2003 brought more than 58 inches to the airport, the second-highest seasonal total on record for the city.

This weekend will see the confluence of two storm systems - one arriving from the Central Plains states, the other from the Gulf Coast with a tremendous load of moisture.

"Those two coming together, which we call phasing, will be occurring over eastern North Carolina," Jackson said. Once that happens, a deep coastal low will form and intensify, drawing in even more moisture from the Atlantic and sending it north into the cold air over the Mid-Atlantic states, generating snow.

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