Baltimore County officials prepare for storm that could bring 2 feet of snow

"Winter is coming." As snowstorm nears, how are Baltimore County officials protecting the "realm"?

Baltimore County officials met Friday morning in Towson to discuss preparedness measures for a major snowstorm slated to hit the region today and Saturday.

The snow is expected to start around 3 p.m. today, and the county's public works director, Ed Adams, said the county has asked contractors to come at 2 p.m. to prepare for a weekend of salting and plowing the county's 8,800 miles of roads.

"We'll take whatever nature gives us," Adams said.

At noon the National Weather Service released a map showing that Baltimore County will likely receive about two feet of snow. There are lower estimates, however, and that is what Adams is hoping for.

"I hate to say it, when you're hoping for a foot," he said.

Adams urged drivers to stay off the roads, noting that when cars are stuck in traffic, so are the county's trucks.

More than 550 county employees will be working during the storm.

Officials also detailed preparedness measures at an earlier media event, held Thursday at the county's Emergency Operations Center in Towson.

At that event, officials said this could be a severe, three-day event, similar to the Presidents Day storm of 2003 and one in 2010, when two storms hit the region three days apart.

"It still puts a pain in my gut," Adams said. "Kind of like I'm feeling right now."

According to the National Weather Service, heavy snow is expected to fall starting Friday evening. Forecasts predict about two feet of snow for all of Baltimore County.

The county's public schools announced that they will be closed Friday because of the weather.

The county will begin salting the roads as soon as snow begins to fall, forming a base layer. When there is enough snow to plow, they'll start plowing, focusing on keeping major routes open and then moving on to secondary roads.

"We're moving everyone out there that we can," Adams said.

Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday declared a state of emergency beginning at 7 a.m. Friday in anticipation of the potentially record-breaking storm. The declaration gives Hogan powers to "deploy resources and make decisions to promote public safety," officials said.

The Maryland Emergency Management Agency, State Highway Administration and National Guard are preparing as well.

In Baltimore City, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake issued a city state of emergency that started at 4 p.m. The city's Emergency Operations Center will be activated at 9 a.m. Friday.

The county has 80,000 tons of salt in storage, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said, which they'll use to keep roughly 8,700 roads clear.

It costs the county $108,000 an hour to salt the roads, and $54,000 an hour to plow. This year $6 million was set aside for snow removal in the county budget.

Before the storm it is important to think ahead, officials said. On the county level, that meant training plow drivers and coordinating with contractors earlier in the year. The county has also used GPS to map the most efficient routes possible, Kamenetz said.

County residents using wells should fill a bathtub up with water, and all residents should make sure they have three days' worth of food, water and other supplies such as a radio. A full list of preparedness tips is available at www.baltimorecountymd.gov/snowfighter.

"It's a good opportunity to check on a neighbor ahead of time, make sure that they — especially someone that's elderly or infirm — make sure they have adequate supplies they might need," Kamenetz said.

Emergency meals have been distributed to some elderly individuals to help them get through the weekend. Emergency shelters are also available; for more information, call 410-853-3000, option 2.

Director of Health and Human Services Gregory Branch told residents to look out for hypothermia in people and pets. Symptoms include shivering, confusion and fumbling of hands. Branch also said it is important to take frequent breaks when shoveling snow.

The county will be communicating with BGE throughout the storm, Kamenetz said. The power utility did maintenance, including cutting trees, ahead of the storm to prevent outages.

Officials asked residents to stay off the roads and park off the street if possible. Drivers should give themselves extra time to get to and from destinations, and leave extra room between vehicles.

"If you don't have to drive, you shouldn't. I think that's the key to preventing future problems," county Police Chief Jim Johnson said.

Two years ago the county started transitioning to vehicles with front-wheel drive, which has helped them get around in inclement weather.

Referencing the television show "Game of Thrones," Kamenetz said the county is ready for the storm.

"Winter is coming," Kamenetz said. "And our realm must be protected."

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