Heavy snow surpassing forecasts, with ice still ahead

Snowfall tops 6 inches in some areas, significantly more than forecast

December 08, 2013|By Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun

For a region accustomed to fizzled snow forecasts in recent years, a storm dumping as much as 8 inches of snow across northern Maryland surprised many on Sunday, stalling vehicles, canceling the city's annual holiday parade and blanketing the field at M&T Bank Stadium for the Ravens' first snow game in Baltimore.

Snow plows struggled to keep up and more challenges were expected for road crews overnight. A forecast of sleet and freezing rain to fall on top of the snow was expected to make for an icy Monday morning commute.

As much as a quarter of an inch of ice accumulation was possible across the Baltimore region overnight, with a winter storm warning in effect through 10 a.m. Monday.

"Our fear is that drivers will see the clear roadway, and become less cautious," State Highway Administration Administrator Melinda B. Peters said in a statement. "Ice is difficult for drivers to detect and much more difficult to treat than snow."

As of Sunday evening, Carroll, Cecil and Harford counties had cancelled school for Monday. Baltimore County was slated to open two hours late.

The snowfall started about mid-morning across the region, quickly coating pavement with temperatures in the mid-20s. The State Highway Administration via Twitter urged motorists to delay travel, as snowfall at rates of 1-2 inches per hour made it difficult to clear roads.

The treacherous conditions disabled vehicles and slowed traffic on major highways as well as arteries. Northern Parkway was closed between Greenspring and Cylburn avenues in north Baltimore because of icy conditions.

Snowfall was heaviest along a stretch from Frederick through Carroll and northern Baltimore counties, into northern Harford County. As much as 7 inches accumulated in Frederick, with 8.5 inches in Westminster, 6.5 inches in White Hall and 8 inches in Norrisville, according to reports made to the National Weather Service on Sunday afternoon.

"Snowfall rates were really intense for a few hours there and that did cause some higher numbers," said Chris Strong, warning coordination meteorologist at the weather service's Baltimore/Washington forecast office.

Outside of that area, snowfall fell within what forecasters had expected, Strong said. A few inches or less fell in many areas closer to Interstate 95 and the Chesapeake Bay, with 1.5 inches measured in Dundalk, about 3 inches in Columbia and less than an inch at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Record snowfall for Sunday's date in Baltimore was 4.1 inches at BWI in 1989.

But the northern band of heavy snow came as more of a surprise.

"It set up earlier and lasted longer than expected," said Keith Krichinsky, chief operating officer of the weather news site FootsForecast.org. "These bands don't show up on models."

The storm caused power outages for hundreds throughout the area Sunday, but Baltimore Gas & Electric said the extent and duration of the outages would depend on temperature: The colder it is, the more likely that ice will accumulate on trees and power lines.

"You'll continue to see that outage number fluctuate," BG&E spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said. "The storm's still moving through."

More than 1,100 BG&E employees were on-call Sunday into Monday morning to respond to incidents in the area, Lighty said. Those crews turned the power back on for more than 1,000 who had lost it Sunday.

At a press conference at the city's Emergency Operations Center Sunday evening, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, police commissioner Anthony Batts and Department of Transportation director William Johnson joined other city officials for an update on the city's response.

More than 150 pieces of snow equipment had dropped some 1,400 tons of salt to clear all the city's major roadways, Rawlings-Blake said. Standing in front of 16 screens streaming snowy, live traffic feeds from different parts of the city, Johnson urged the public to be careful on the roads.

"If you do not have to travel, stay indoors," he said.

Rawlings-Blake said the Jones-Falls Expressway was closed for an hour Sunday afternoon because, as an elevated roadway, it freezes more quickly than other roads.

Weather-related cancellations started to surface by mid-morning. The Mayor's Christmas Parade in Hampden was canceled and will not be rescheduled, said Kevin Harris, a spokesman for the mayor's office.

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore sent out a message about 11:30 a.m. that it would close for the rest of the day because of the snow.

By early afternoon, businesses began to react. Lynne Brick's Belvedere Square fitness center announced it would close at 1:30 p.m. Gertrude's restaurant in Charles Village sent out a Twitter message saying it would close for dinner.

Towson University closed its campus at 3 p.m., but made no decision on whether to open as usual Monday morning.

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