First significant snow closes schools, creates traffic hazards

Cold to continue, with more snow possible Saturday

December 16, 2010|By Frank D. Roylance, The Baltimore Sun

Marylanders recovering from the region's first significant snowfall Thursday face a potentially slippery morning commute and the possibility of another storm this weekend.

Thursday's snowfall of 1 to 3 inches closed schools, coated roads and triggered numerous accidents.

Highway crews were out in force spreading salt and chemicals on the pavement. But the unusually cold weather was forecast to continue, so area sidewalks, some roads and side streets could remain slick for the morning rush hour Friday.

And forecasters said that's not all Marylanders need to worry about as the weekend starts. Computer models are showing another storm brewing to our south.

"One of our models is bringing the storm up from the Gulf of Mexico, up the southeast U.S. coast to a position off Cape Hatteras on Sunday," said Jim Lee, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service's Baltimore- Washington Forecast Office in Sterling, Va.

"For the Baltimore region, the optimal position for a surface low is right at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay," he said. "And this is getting a little close to that."

Lee said other forecast models take the storm too far off the coast to menace the Interstate 95 corridor, although the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland could feel a "glancing blow."

For now, the official forecast calls for a "slight" chance of snow Saturday night in Baltimore. "People should be paying attention to the forecast for this weekend," Lee said.

Thursday's storm dropped 1 to 3 inches of snow across the state before it ended in the early evening. Two inches were reported in parts of Frederick and Montgomery counties by mid-afternoon, with 1 to 2 inches elsewhere.

It wasn't much, but as predicted, the snow and ice slowed the evening rush hour to a crawl in many locations. In Baltimore's Hamilton neighborhood, northbound Harford Road was a virtual parking lot Thursday afternoon, with vehicles becoming stuck as drivers tried to go up the hill from Cold Spring Lane.

"It's a long, slow commute. It's slippery," said Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley. A rash of mostly minor accidents persisted through the afternoon and evening.

In one of the more serious wrecks, police closed Route 550 southeast of Woodsboro in Frederick County late Thursday afternoon after a single-vehicle collision that involved downed power lines and serious injury, Shipley said. He had no further information.

Conditions might improve by the morning rush hour if salt and chemicals are able to do their job, he said. "But motorists should certainly expect icy spots in their commute."

The flakes began falling steadily about 10 a.m. in Washington and 11 a.m. in downtown Baltimore. They quickly coated pavements already chilled to the low 20s by two weeks of unusually cold December weather.

Snow emergency plans were put into effect in the afternoon in Baltimore and Carroll counties. And as the snow and mostly minor accidents piled up, the state police called late-shift troopers in to work in advance of their normal start times.

Four preschool children from Pointers Run Elementary School in Clarksville were taken to Howard County General Hospital in the afternoon after their school bus was struck in the rear by a 2003 Nissan Murano.

County police said the bus was northbound in the 7000 block of Pindell School Road at 1:30 p.m. when it was hit. The bus driver, identified by police as Elizabeth Mae Ganoe, 34, of Laurel, was taken to Howard County General with minor injuries.

A school bus aide, Lisa Ann Baker, 45, was not injured, police said. The driver of the Nissan, identified by police as Zakia Renay Williams, 33, of Middle River, also was uninjured. Williams was cited for driving "at a speed greater than reasonable," police said.

Public schools across the region began sending students home early as conditions deteriorated. Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Carroll and Kent counties announced they would close an hour early.

Frederick and Prince George's county schools dismissed children two hours early. Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's counties were closed all day because of the forecast.

Baltimore City and Harford County schools canceled all afternoon and evening activities.

The cold weather and icy spots will stay in place behind the storm, Lee said, with highs for the next few days only in the low- to mid-30s, more than 10 degrees below the average for this time of year.

"People have to exercise caution," Lee said. "They have to get used to slowing down their step and their cars."

David Buck, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, said that because of unusually cold pavements, highway crews were applying magnesium chloride to the highways, "chemicals, in addition to the salt, that we generally use only in far Western Maryland."

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