Impact of Maryland snow to linger amid cold temperatures

City issues Code Blue through Saturday

January 22, 2014|By Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun

Residents across Maryland haven't felt the last wintry bite of the snow that lashed the state Tuesday: Its impact will linger through the weekend due to frigid temperatures.

Much of the snow, which measured 7 inches at BWI Tuesday night and topped 11 inches in other areas, will turn to ice. Visibility will be reduced as high winds swirl whatever doesn't freeze back into the air.

"We're used to dealing with the snow. …This is extreme cold combined with precipitation, so it's the not-so-perfect storm," said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake after a briefing on citywide emergency operations.

Officials urged commuters and residents across the state to be cautious in coming days, saying wind chills reaching 10 degrees below zero overnight could cause frostbite symptoms quickly and freeze roads. Wind gusts of up to 35 mph are expected to cover plowed roads with fresh layers of snow.

Temperatures are forecast to stay below freezing until Saturday, and will drop again after that, according to the National Weather Service. "We're going to stay well below normal here for at least a week," said Ken Widelski, a NWS meteorologist.

The State Highway Administration reported interstates were mostly free of snow and ice midday Wednesday, with crews who salted and plowed overnight spending the morning "pushing whatever slush and snow left off to the side and shoulders."

Overall, Tuesday's snow caused fewer incidents than past, comparable snow falls, said Valerie Burnette Edgar, a SHA spokeswoman.

"There were some crashes and some pretty serious accidents, but compared to comparable amounts of snow before, this one seemed to go pretty well," she said. School and government closings helped keep many people off the roads, she said.

The agency's "primary concern" going into the rest of the week will be "cold spots" of ice. "I don't know that it's going to get warm enough to melt," Edgar said.

Ice conditions will vary "depending on where you are in the state," she said, and will be unpredictable.

As the snow intensified, the mode of transportation for customers at the ShopRite grocery store on Ritchie Highway in Glen Burnie, gradually switched from driving to walking, said store manager John Conde.

He said the store had plenty of the typical snowstorm items — bread, milk and toilet paper — but customers were also seeking out treats. "It's all pretty much comfort food stuff, a lot of snacks and sodas. I think people are getting ready to hunker down."

Adrienne Barnes, a city transportation spokeswoman, said motorists "should expect some challenging conditions for the morning commute, especially in secondary and neighborhood streets due to a combination of heavy snowfall and drop in temperature."

The city issued a Cold Blue alert through Saturday, which triggers increased services for the homeless and those without heat, for fear that the wet snow will combine with the cold temperatures and cause hypothermia deaths. "We are concerned about the added risk," said Oxiris Barbot, the city's health commissioner.

Human services officials planned to dispatch outreach workers throughout the city overnight to find homeless people and relocate them to shelters and other indoor spaces — including hotels if the shelters are filled.

"We will make arrangements for everyone who is on the street," Rawlings-Blake said.

Other localities also expanded shelter services and opened warming centers.

The storm, which dropped just a few inches in some parts of Maryland and stacked several more than that in others, left the entire state under a winter storm warning — disrupting the afternoon commute just as officials said three-fourths of an inch of snow was dropping per hour.

The snow continued late into Tuesday night, and even Wednesday morning in parts of the Baltimore region, Widelski said, before tapering off around midnight.

By Tuesday night, Baltimore officials had used more than 6,000 tons of salt and were purchasing more to replenish the 9,000 tons they still had on hand. There were 133 city plows and 63 private contractors working to keep roads clear.

Still, commuters were getting stuck, especially on hilly roads, spinning their tires with no effect.

At Centre and St. Paul streets in Mount Vernon, several residents and fellow drivers helped push one car up a hill after it had become stuck for several minutes.

"There you go. Baltimore doing a good deed," said Andrew Porter, 56, a retired Army 1st sergeant who lives in the neighborhood and was out shoveling the sidewalk for a neighbor.

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