No snow: Storm's brunt hits farther north

Baltimore 'dodged somewhat of a bullet'

December 27, 2010|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

A snowstorm charging up the East Coast largely missed the Baltimore region, playing havoc with the predictions of meteorologists and plans of travelers as forecasts of up to a half-foot of snow amounted to little more than a dusting.

But as temperatures dipped after nightfall, state highway officials were watching for icy roads.

"You prepare for the worst and hope for the best," said Kellie Boulware of the State Highway Administration. "All in all, the fact that schools aren't in session, people are off for the holiday week, and we didn't have that many travelers on the highway gave our crews a chance to go out and throw down salt. We've got more on hand available to us."

Downed trees were also possible, with wind gusts expected to reach 40 mph overnight. Meanwhile, those returning home from destinations in the Northeast were expected to encounter trouble, with heavier snow and blizzard-like conditions in the mix.

In Ocean City, several inches of snow had accumulated by late afternoon. Mayor Rick Meehan said he thought the resort town could end up with a foot of snow.

"It's a bit of a pain, but it's beautiful out there right now," he said.

Meteorologists had anticipated 6 inches or more of snow in the Baltimore region before the system passed. With memories of this year's snowstorms still fresh, Gov. Martin O'Malley pre-emptively declared a state of emergency.

But the storm was downgraded before 3 p.m. by the National Weather Service when forecasters saw that the storm had lost momentum as it continued to move to the north, said Calvin Meadows of the National Weather Service.

Meteorologist Andy Woodcock, also with the National Weather Service, said the ultimate accumulation totals for the Baltimore area turned out to be minimal — which is what forecasters predicted before the storm showed signs of strengthening Saturday — in part because the storm tracked farther east.

The Baltimore region "dodged somewhat of a bullet," Woodcock said.

A Winter Weather Advisory was to stay in effect until 6 a.m. Monday.

Officials at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport urged passengers to check airline schedules tonight and Monday. Beginning Saturday night, airlines canceled a "significant number of flights," said Jonathan Dean, spokesman for BWI.

Dean said he did not know how many flights were canceled Sunday, but he said the airlines had communicated their cancellations to passengers, diminishing the number of travelers stranded at the airport.

The Northeast was receiving the brunt of the storm. Forecasters issued a blizzard warning for New York City for Sunday and Monday, with a forecast of 11 to 16 inches of snow and strong winds that will reduce visibility to near zero at times. A blizzard warning was in effect for Rhode Island and most of eastern Massachusetts, including Boston, with forecasters predicting 15 to 20 inches of snow. As much as 18 inches could fall on the New Jersey shore, with wind gusts topping 40 mph.

Fearful of the storm's impact, the NFL pushed back a Sunday night matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles to Tuesday.

A blizzard warning is issued when snow is accompanied by sustained winds or gusts over 35 mph.

"You don't want to go north," the weather service's Woodcock said.

Some flakes — part of a different weather system — fell Christmas morning, dusting cars and shrubs.

With the plans of untold numbers of holiday motorists hanging in the balance, transportation officials across the region prepared their crews.

Maryland's State Highway Administration began preparing for snow as early as Tuesday, when equipment was tested and stockpiles of gas and salt were evaluated.

As the storm moved through the South, airlines canceled hundreds of flights on Saturday, including many at the busy Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, a hub for Delta.

An airline spokesman said people with travel plans through Baltimore, Washington, Boston, New York and Newark, N.J., Sunday or Monday could change flights without a penalty as long as they travel by Dec. 29.

AirTran Airlines offered to waive ticket-change fees for some flights scheduled for this weekend and Monday in the Mid-Atlantic and South.

Amtrak canceled some of its Virginia routes into Monday morning, and Cliff Cole, an Amtrak spokesman, said the company would continue to monitor the snowfall to determine train schedules.

"I'm fairly certain there will be other adjustments we will have to make," Cole said. The Virginia cancellations were "the first round," he said.

The path of the storm has been unpredictable for the past week.

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