Snow still blocked, slowed ways to work

February 09, 2010|By Meredith Cohn |

As crews continued to clear roads, train tracks and runways of packed snow and ice from the weekend blizzard, another storm was expected to pummel the region today, causing headaches for those returning to work.

Crews have worked overtime to restore some bus, train and airline service and to clear major highways ahead of the new round of snow, which could dump 10 inches or more. It helped that many government employees, as well as schoolchildren and other workers, stayed home.

Lawmakers at the General Assembly were expected to return to work today but the federal government shutdown will continue. All Baltimore-area school systems will remain closed. Baltimore County said schools will be closed tomorrow as well. Late Monday, Southwest canceled a swath of its flights in and out of Baltimore from this afternoon through Wednesday afternoon.

Officials warned that limited commuter train and bus service was expected to continue. Major roads such as Interstates 95 and 295 would remain icy and snowy in places, they said, and some lanes would remain obstructed - even before more snow falls.

"This is a record snowstorm," Beverly Swaim-Staley, the state transportation secretary, said at an afternoon news conference Monday. "And we're not finished digging out from this storm and we're getting another one tomorrow."

State and local officials urged people to stay off the roads if possible, or at least take extra care and be patient, so crews could continue to clear them.

Swaim-Staley noted the progress made by workers around the state, including utility workers who restored power to about 110,000 homes - leaving about 50,000 without power by late afternoon.

She was joined at the news conference by transit and highway officials who said there were many difficult spots where ice and snowpack meant special heavy equipment was necessary for clearing.

Neil Pedersen, the state highway administrator, said no road fatalities have been attributed to the blizzard, but hard-to-see black ice was becoming a real problem. Crews were counting on their equipment, salt and chemicals, and a little bit of sun, to melt some densely packed snow and ice still on the roadways.

He said crews were trying to push back snow so there would be room for more. The National Weather Service predicts 10 inches to 20 inches of snow beginning in mid-to-late afternoon today and ending Wednesday.

On MARC, commuter train service on the Camden, Penn and Brunswick lines was expected to continue today on "S" schedules, the schedule for severe weather, said Maryland Transit Authority spokeswoman Jawauna Greene.

Baltimore- Washington International Thurgood Marshall airport reopened Sunday evening when the first commercial runway was cleared. The second was cleared by 4:30 p.m. Monday and service was largely normal, said Jonathan Dean, airport spokesman. He said the airport was "aggressively preparing" for another storm and could handle flights at least early in the snowfall.

Southwest Airlines, BWI's dominant carrier, with more than 160 daily flights, said it was busy rebooking passengers from the weekend. More than 500 flights were canceled in the Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas. But by Monday night, the airline had canceled most of its flights in and out of BWI from midday today through midday Wednesday.

AirTran, the second-largest carrier at BWI, with 60 daily flights, was "thinning its schedule" from 5 p.m. today to noon Wednesday, said spokesman Chris White.

Monday afternoon, however, the airport appeared rather normal. Lines were long but moving. The board showed flights were on time.

That was welcome news to Meagan McFadden, who spent the last day and a half traveling to BWI from her home in Pasco, Wash., where she's a public information officer for the state department of transportation.

She flew on Delta from Seattle to Salt Lake City. Then she was rerouted to Denver and then Minneapolis, where there was a two-hour delay for de-icing. She flew to Philadelphia, where she spent the night at an airport hotel before hopping a shuttle to the Amtrak station. She got off at the BWI stop, where she planned to catch a shuttle to Emmitsburg for a training session at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"Neither wind nor rain nor snow can keep public information officers from their appointed seminars," she said.

It appears not much can keep John Greene, of Frederick, from going on vacation, either. He was scheduled to fly to Las Vegas on Sunday, but Southwest called Saturday to say he'd have to reschedule.

His only regret was not doing that immediately, instead of waiting to confer with his traveling companions. It took two hours to get through again on the phone. Still, he thought the airline did a good job of notifying him and getting him rebooked.

He hopes he doesn't have any trouble on his return flight, but it's scheduled for Wednesday. "It's 3 feet of snow. What are you going to do?"

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