It really was 'the Big One'

Sun Staff

What felt like the worst snowstorm ever was indeed the Big One.

As Marylanders continued to dig out from beneath the wintry onslaught that began late Friday, resumed with a vengeance early Sunday and sputtered to a finish yesterday, the National Weather Service officially declared it the worst winter storm to hit the Baltimore region since record-keeping began in 1871.

The upgrading of the storm coincided with a rise in related deaths across the state. Four children perished inside snow-covered cars after inhaling carbon monoxide fumes, and a 64-year-old Baltimore man died of an apparent heart attack after shoveling snow.

Last night, officials were investigating more apparent carbon monoxide deaths -- of Johnathan Thomas, 20, and Allen Adams, 17, whose bodies were found in a car in the 1600 block of Northbourne Road in Northeast Baltimore, where they had apparently gone to smoke marijuana, city police said. The vehicle's exhaust pipe was obstructed by snow.

At least 10 deaths have been blamed on the storm.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. surveyed one of the most visible reminders of the storm's impact yesterday, the collapsed roof of the B&O Railroad Museum's historic roundhouse. During the visit, he said the state of emergency will remain in effect until this afternoon.

With above-freezing temperatures and sunshine beaming down, barricades of snow began to melt and the region slowly emerged from the agonizing crawl that had gripped it.

Mail was delivered. Buses and trains began limited service by midafternoon. Airplanes took to the skies. State legislators convened. And for the first time since Friday, there was such a thing as a morning commute -- at least for those who had to trudge to work on slushy highways.

But the annoyance remained. Schools systems across the region remain closed. American Red Cross officials worried about dwindling blood supplies. And snowbound residents in cul-de-sacs and in neighborhoods accessible only by narrow roads are left wondering: When will my street be plowed?

In Mount Washington, residents grew so desperate yesterday that they stood along Greenspring Avenue, waving their hands excitedly in an attempt to flag down a snowplow -- to no avail. It was just one more sign that homeowners with snow-packed driveways have lost their patience with what has become Maryland's unofficial winter sport: shoveling.

Cabin fever

"Several of my neighbors have already told me today, 'I've had enough, I'm getting cabin fever!'" said Deborah Seate, 51, who lives in Columbia's Village of Dorsey's Search. "They're walking up to the store just to get out of the house."

For a time, Seate enjoyed the peace and quiet that came with being cut off from the rest of the world by a wall of white. She made soup from scratch. She dug a tunnel out to her bird feeder. She rotated among shoveling, eating and taking naps.

But her street still wasn't plowed yesterday afternoon, and she's beginning to think longingly of "getting back to work and getting back to regular life." Her shovel is wearing out, for heaven's sake.

The main problem at the Howard County Emergency Operations Center was an unending barrage of telephone queries that began at 5 a.m. from residents who had shoveled out their vehicles but were waiting for county snowplows to clear their streets.

"Most people have been reasonable. They've been patient," said Al Ferragamo, the county's public works director. Given that, the county can handle the calls from a few who are "intense" about their unhappiness, he said.

Howard County officials expect to have all residential streets plowed today.

Equipment problems

In Baltimore, major roads were cleared yesterday, but side streets in residential neighborhoods continued to be impassable to cars.

The city's efforts to clear the roads were slowed by equipment failures in nearly half its 181 snowplows, ranging from transmission problems to broken windshield wipers and troubles with salt spreaders.

"This is going to happen with any storm, you are always going to have mechanical failures," said Baltimore's public works director, George L. Winfield. "When you have the vehicles operating 24 hours a day, there is a lot of stress on their transmissions, in particular."

Despite the clearing of roads, Interstate 95 near Caton Avenue was backed up for miles yesterday after an accident involving several vehicles shut down southbound lanes.

Trash collection has been suspended indefinitely in the city, and most city employees have been asked to stay home if they do not provide essential services. The city is asking the public to lend a hand by picking up shovels and digging out fire hydrants and clearing storm drains, so streets will not flood as the snow melts.

Amending the record

In revising its summary of the storm's duration, the National Weather Service said 28.2 inches of snow fell at , making it the region's worst winter storm in 132 years.

"The issues were deciding whether these were one storm or two storms, because we did have a break in the precipitation," said weather service meteorologist Michelle Margraf. "But some areas south of Baltimore didn't have a break, and we thought it would be a lot easier and make a lot more sense to combine the two."

So, officially, at BWI, the storm brought 2.4 inches on Saturday; 21.8 inches on Sunday; 2.6 inches Monday and 1.4 inches more in a final dusting yesterday morning.

The new official total has finally displaced the legendary "Knickerbocker Storm" of Jan. 27-29, 1922, which stood as the winter benchmark for 81 years at 26.5 inches. The storm earned its name from the roof collapse at the Knickerbocker Theatre in Washington, which gave way under the snow, crushing 98 people and injuring 130 others.

Forecasters remain concerned about the potential for flooding this weekend as daytime temperatures rise and strong rains approach the region.

In urban areas, Margraf said, storm drains should be cleared to allow the water to drain properly.

The rising toll

The snow was melting yesterday, but not before wreaking more havoc.

In Baltimore, a man who spent several hours shoveling snow Monday was found dead in his car and may have died of a heart attack or from carbon monoxide poisoning, police said.

The man was identified as James Arthur Douglas, 64, of the 4100 block of Forest Park Ave. Douglas, whom relatives said took medication for heart problems, was found in his car with the ignition on, said Officer Troy Harris, a police spokesman.

In Anne Arundel County, firefighters responding to a fire on Crilley Road in Harundale found a 66-year-old man unconscious in his car in the 7800 block of Gordon Court, authorities said.

The car was backed up to a snowdrift and the ignition was on but the car was not running because it was out of gas. Officials speculated that the man had suffered a heart attack or carbon monoxide poisoning. The man was taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore for treatment.

Out and about

As the snow cleared, patrons returned to area businesses. On one end of the Cross Street Market in Baltimore's Federal Hill, regulars packed into Nick's Seafood Grill guzzled beer and slurped oysters, thrilled to be out of the house.

On the Charles Street side of the market, MaGerk's Pub and Grill had sold so many sandwiches over the long weekend that it ran out of bread for its famous cheese steaks yesterday. One of the owners, John Dolaway, drove down a truckload of the signature sub rolls from Philadelphia. His brother Paul spent the morning at Metro supermarket on Fort Avenue, stocking up on lemons and limes so the bar could keep making drinks.

If the bread hadn't come in, "I don't know what we would have done," said MaGerk's manager Bridget Holm. "We were starting to serve them on kaiser rolls, because that's all we've had. But everyone says it's the bread that makes the cheese steak."

With the high snow came an unofficial relaxation of the state House of Delegates' dress code in Annapolis. Del. Alfred W. Redmer Jr., the minority leader, wore a pair of faded jeans with his sport coat and tie.

"I wasn't going to put on a suit and walk through knee-high snow," the Baltimore County Republican said.

Redmer spent the weekend in Annapolis. He had hopes that snow-related problems would ease before he returns home next weekend.

"I've got my son at home. He's 23. I would like to think I'm going to get home to a fairly dug-out driveway," Redmer said. "I wouldn't bet my mortgage on that."

When the House convened at noon yesterday, only 105 of its 141 members were on hand -- enough for a quorum to conduct business but far fewer than usual. By the time the session closed, the count was up to 108.

Across the hall in the Senate, 42 of 47 senators showed up -- and one of the absentees was said to be stranded in Texas.

Being stuck was not an option for Jim Doyle, 65, of Dickeyville. The retired public school teacher feared the combination of record snowfall and his year-old knee replacement would force him to miss his weekly bridge game.

So Doyle said his partners hatched a plan: They would meet him at a plowed intersection with a toboggan and haul him up the street to the game.

"I have to go now," he said by phone, to make his 7:15 p.m. appointment. "I just can't let these guys down if they are going to all this trouble for a bridge game."

Sun staff writers Larry Carson, Athima Chansanchai, Michael Dresser, Reginald Fields, Mary Gail Hare, Jamie Smith Hopkins, Richard Irwin, Rona Kobell, Linda Linely, Sheridan Lyons, Kimball Payne, Tom Pelton and Laurie Willis contributed to this article.

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