'Major storm' expected to bring ice, up to 8 inches snow

Officials warn of possible power outages

  • Lydia Tansill picks up some bread as she shops for her family and relatives at Shoppers Food Warehouse in the Southside Marketplace in Locust Point. The store was busy Sunday afternoon as customers stocked up before the storm expected to begin on Sunday night.
Lydia Tansill picks up some bread as she shops for her family… (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun )
March 03, 2014|By Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun

A winter that hasn't pulled any punches has started to sock the region again Monday, with as much as 8 inches of snow expected followed by another round or two of single-digit temperatures.

As of 5:30 a.m. about an inch has fallen in Reisterstown and the city, according to the National Weather Service. The heaviest snows in the region were expected south of Baltimore as a storm stretching from Colorado to Massachusetts plows across the country. The National Weather Service forecast as much as 10 inches of snow in Southern Maryland, 4 to 8 inches across Central Maryland and lesser amounts toward the Mason-Dixon Line falling Monday, on top of one-tenth inch of ice.

The forecast had officials renewing calls for motorists to delay travel and for residents to be prepared for power outages. Flight delays and cancellations once again began multiplying and institutions that have already called more than a few snow days announced more closings.

Schools in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, Carroll and Howard counties, as well as Baltimore City, were closed Monday. Baltimore City offered liberal leave for non-essential employees, and federal government offices in the D.C. area closed Monday.

For residents, it was one more blow from a winter that is already the snowiest since the season of "Snowmageddon," winter 2009-2010, and with more snow measured at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport since December than during the past three winters combined. It has meanwhile been the coldest start to any year in Baltimore in more than a decade.

"I asked if we could cancel it," Ferndale resident Jennifer Groves said of the snow storm when her mother informed her of the forecast.

Groves and her 10-year-old daughter Alexandra passed grills, lawn mowers and wheelbarrows displayed in front of the Lowe's in Glen Burnie as they shopped for tomato seeds and bolts needed for a birdhouse project. But despite the eye toward spring, it was the small pile of saucer-shaped sleds by the Lowe's entrance that caught Alexandra's eye.

"She said, 'Mom, can we please?' and I said sure," Groves said of her daughter. "It'll give her something to do" when her Monday dance practice is likely canceled, she said. So far this winter, Alexandra has made do with a trash can lid for a sled.

Precipitation started as rain Sunday afternoon, but with a front of Arctic air moving across the Ohio Valley toward the mid-Atlantic, it was expected to turn to freezing rain and sleet by late Sunday night. That could leave a coating of up to a tenth of an inch of ice before a change-over to snow was expected by early Monday morning, with snowfall rates of as much as an inch or two per hour before daybreak.

A winter storm warning was in effect through 6 p.m. Monday.

Forecasters had previously expected the storm's heaviest bands of snowfall to cross Maryland's midsection, but later shifted that southward into Virginia. That could mean limited snowfall of 4 to 6 inches in northern Carroll, Baltimore and Harford counties, which have experienced the heaviest snowfalls this winter, but still a significant storm for the Baltimore area, said Amy Bettwy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.

"We're still expecting a major storm," Bettwy said. "The impacts are still going to be high."

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials began mobilizing employees and crews Sunday, expecting the possibility of "extended outages" from ice damage, gusty winds and a blanket of snow — though the snow was expected to be relatively light and dry given the cold temperatures.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Sunday city officials would be setting up temporary street lights in neighborhoods where lights have been inoperable because of needed repairs to underground wires. The snow was expected to delay BGE's efforts to make the repairs, city and utility officials said. Rawlings-Blake also ordered police to make extra foot patrols in those neighborhoods.

Gov. Martin O'Malley urged drivers to stay off the roads if possible to keep them clear for plows. State emergency management officials urged those who do drive in the snow to keep cell phones fully charged and gas tanks at least half full.

Highway crews were preparing to add more strain to already-stretched budgets for salting and snow removal. The State Highway Administration had spent $114 million on storm cleanup so far this winter, exceeding both its snow removal budget of $46 million and its normal annual spending of $70 million, spokesman David Buck said. Before receiving a shipment of salt at the Port of Baltimore on Saturday, the state had about 150,000 tons of salt in its stores, typically using 70,000 to 90,000 tons in a major storm, Buck said.

"We're good for this storm," Buck said. "But [salt] is a rare commodity for everybody now."

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