First sub-zero temperatures since 1996 possible after fresh blanket of snow

January 03, 2014|By Scott Dance and Carrie Wells, The Baltimore Sun

Temperatures could dip below zero for the first time since 1996 early Saturday as the fresh blanket of snow and calming winds chill the region overnight, according to the National Weather Service.

Forecasters are calling for a low of 1 degree below zero, which would break a record low of 4 degrees on Saturday's date, set in 1918. The last time the mercury fell below zero at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport was Feb. 5, 1996, with a low of 1 degree below zero.

The frigidity comes after sub-zero wind chills throughout the day Friday. Four to seven inches of snow blanketed the region overnight, and that storm pulled in Arctic air behind it.

Northwesterly winds made it feel as cold as 5 degrees below zero in the Baltimore area Friday, after four to seven inches of snow blanketed much of the region overnight.

Snowfall tapered off by the early morning hours, with clear skies afterward. Air temperatures are forecast by the National Weather Service to top out around 20 degrees in the afternoon, falling into the lower teens in the city and the mid-single digits in the county.

More than six inches of snow fell in northern Baltimore County, with seven inches reported in Catonsville, according to the weather service. Five inches fell in the Pimlico area of Baltimore City. Carroll County, Harford and Howard counties saw about four to six inches of snow, while snowfall totals mostly ranged from three to six inches in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.

The largest reported snowfall amount on Friday morning was 7.5 inches in Norrisville, in northern Harford County.

Wind gusts reached 35 mph at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, and with temperatures hovering in the mid- to upper teens. Officials warned that the combination could lead to frostbite and hypothermia and cautioned residents to bundle up. A wind chill advisory for the region was canceled shortly before noon.

A wind chill of 6 degrees below was recorded in Westminster at 8 a.m., while wind chills of 10-15 degrees below zero were measured early this morning in Frederick County, according to the weather service.

Baltimore health officials extended a "Code Blue" advisory to 10 a.m. Saturday, maintaining extra resources for homeless and vulnerable populations. While the advisory is in effect, city officials comb for those without adequate shelter and open a 24-hour housing and resource center for men and women at 620 Fallsway, with 60 beds available. Private homeless shelters are urged to extend hours.

A wind advisory is meanwhile also in effect for much of Maryland and the Baltimore region until noon. Tall vehicles may have difficulty driving in the wind.

The state of Maryland declared a liberal leave policy for employees. Baltimore City public schools were closed, as were those in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties. For more school closings, click here.

The federal government was open on Friday, but employees had the option of taking unscheduled leave or teleworking.

By early Friday morning, many secondary roads in Baltimore and the surrounding counties were still icy and snow-covered. Transportation officials urged drivers to stay off the roads or to drive slowly, and warned that extremely cold temperatures would limit the effectiveness of salt treatments.

"The main concern facing motorists this morning is blowing snow that can quickly cover recently plowed lanes," Melinda B. Peters of the State Highway Administration said in a statement. "Motorists need to have realistic expectations and use heightened caution and reduce speeds. Crews will continue applying chemicals but we warn people that any snow packed areas will be very slow to melt, even with salt or salt brine on the road."

By 7 a.m., Baltimore County officials said they had 60 percent of roads plowed, but that drifting snow was covering up some of their work. Baltimore City transportation officials said they had used 4,800 tons of salt to treat roads from Thursday evening through early Friday morning.

Baltimore City said crews would collect trash and recycling on Friday.

Baltimore Gas and Electric reported some small and localized power outages scattered throughout the region Friday morning, affecting 1,100 customers as of about 9 a.m., but outages fell to less than 150 by 11:30 a.m.

Most local government offices and courts in the region were closed or had a delayed opening, with essential employees told to report.

Baltimore City health officials declared a "Code Blue" alert, mobilizing resources to ensure the homeless and other vulnerable populations are sheltered from the cold.

A gale warning was in effect for the Chesapeake Bay area and tidal Potomac River. NWS said it may call for a small craft advisory later on Friday.

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