Just as snow began falling in Baltimore, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake urged residents to be both vigilant about their safety and patient with city crews clearing snow.
Hundreds of city workers and pieces of equipment have already been deployed, and plan to work around the clock to keep roadways open. But as of 6 p.m. Friday, Rawlings-Blake ordered that cars without chains or snow tires must stay off the streets. Stuck and abandoned vehicles will hinder snow removal, she said.
William M. Johnson, director of the city's Department of Transportation, said that officials would monitor conditions and potentially ban all but emergency vehicles from the streets if conditions become unsafe even for snow plows.
"Stay home," Rawlings-Blake said in an afternoon press conference flanked by city agency heads. "Watch a movie, read a book. ...If people are stupid on the roads, that messes everything up."
Rawlings-Blake said city officials learned many lessons from the major back-to-back 2010 snowstorms termed "Snomageddon" and have made changes to keep residents better informed, she said. In addition to the news, she said residents can go online to snow.baltimorecity.gov for updates. The city also has tapped contractors to clear neighborhood streets at the same time city crews work on major arteries, potentially sparing residents from "cabin fever" because they have no way out.
But she and others agency heads warned that the blizzard will bring snow measured in feet, not inches, and that it will take some time to get back to normal.
In the meantime, they urged residents to check on their neighbors who may not be prepared for the snow. Operators at the city's 311 line will also stay on the job. Once the snow ends, a new program will send city youths to clear walkways in front of the elderly and disabled who signed up in the fall. Transportation, public works, police and fire officials said they, too, remain on the job and urged residents to stay safe by ensuring heaters were away from flammable materials, fire hydrants were accessible and residents were filling jugs of water in case there are burst pipes or outages at pumping stations.
"We are closely monitoring the situation and we are fully prepared for whatever comes," Rawlings-Blake said. "We need city residents to do their part."