Harford County residents awoke Thursday morning to the biggest snow storm to hit the area so far this season.
By late morning, it had dumped several inches of snow on northeastern Maryland and had begun changing over to rain and sleet. The storm was anticipated and officials had canceled classes for Harford schools before snow began falling.
Another round is expected Thursday night, and Harford County Public Schools has already announced it will be closed Friday, with essential personnel reporting at 10 a.m. Harford County Government will open, with liberal leave in effect, as will the Town of Bel Air..
Harford County came through the storm "remarkably well" despite 18 inches of snow in the northern part of the county and one foot in the southern portion, Rick Ayers, deputy director of emergency services and the county's emergency manager, said.
"We feel like we're very fortunate, for having almost two feet of snow in the northern part of the county," he said shortly after 5:30 p.m.
Ayers praised Department of Public Works crews for their efforts in clearing the major roads.
He said the Emergency Operations Center is scheduled to close at 7 p.m. Thursday, and a shift manager will be in the 911 center to monitor conditions as another 2 to 4 inches is expected to fall on the county during the night.
Freezing rain began falling in downtown Bel Air shortly after 6 p.m.
Much of Harford County came to a standstill Thursday, with schools, governments and businesses shut down as residents tried to dig out from underneath anywhere from 12 to 18 inches of heavy wet snow. More is expected over Thursday and into Friday.
While Gov. Martin O'Malley declared a state of emergency Wednesday, Harford County Executive David Craig declared one for Harford Thursday morning, though some people were out and about.
George Bennett, of Bel Air, was out in his four-wheel drive pickup truck for his morning coffee and newspaper.
"I had to get out," he said as he returned home around 9 a.m. The roads were OK, he said, as long as you drove slow and were careful.
Many others just stayed put for the duration, hunkering down with movies or games or whatever else they could do to wait it out.
While the storm didn't catch anyone by surprise, it did drop more than the predictions that had been revised downward Wednesday evening. In an automated phone message Wednesday evening, Harford County Emergency Manager Rick Ayers said the storm shifted.
"Because the storm path has shifted closer to the coast, I expect a transition to sleet during the morning hours on Thursday and that will most likely reduce the overall snow totals in the County," Ayers said in his message.
Harford County highways crews had reported to work by 9 p.m. Wednesday and worked throughout the night, treating and plowing roads. Highway officials asked people not to park their vehicles on streets if possible and to clear snow around fire hydrants near their homes.
A winter storm warning for the Baltimore-Washington region and Northern Virginia took effect at 8 p.m. Wednesday and was scheduled to remain in place through 5 a.m. Friday, according to a notice posted on the National Weather Service website.
By Thursday morning, amounts of snow in the area varied, with more falling north of I-95. While Havre de Grace had about 10 inches, the Fallston area had about 15 inches by 8 a.m.
Bob Thomas, public information officer for the Harford County Department of Emergency Services, there were four motor vehicle accidents, one with injuries, between 10 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. Thursday, and 10 between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Thursday.
Around 1:33 p.m. Thursday, the Harford Fire and EMS Blog reported a man was injured in an accident with a snow blower in the 3600 block of Anderson Road. The top of his finger amputated from a snow blower, according to the Facebook post.
Thomas said the Harford 911 Center dispatched 87 police, fire and EMS calls for service between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursday.
In an update on conditions released shortly before 4 p.m., Thomas said the county Emergency Operations Center was being staffed at Level II, which includes Department of Public Works, local and state law enforcement, National Guard and Department of Community Services representatives in addition to Department Emergency Management staff.
Thomas said all county roads were passable and there were only an estimated 20 Baltimore Gas & Electric customers without power, all in the Aberdeen area.
"An additional two to four inches of snow is expected this evening," Thomas said. "Snowfall will begin sometime after 5 p.m. and will conclude around midnight."
He also said Harford DPW crews would be pulled in for relief shortly around 5 p.m. and would return to clearing roads starting at 11 p.m. and continuing through the night.
Harford County Public Schools canceled Wednesday evening activities and schools were closed Thursday.
Thursday classes were canceled at Harford Community College and, by Thursday afternoon they were canceled for Friday, too, according to the college website. Anyone who needs more information should call 443-412-2322.
The John Carroll School of Bel Air was also closed Thursday, according to the school website.
Harford County government and Aberdeen Proving Ground were also closed Thursday.
As of 4 p.m. Thursday, no decisions had been announced regarding possible school or county government delays or closings for Friday.
Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett said crews were plowing all night in his city, and he was surprised by the intensity of the storm.
"It's a trip," Bennett said. "I figured if we got 8 inches, that would be a lot, so it's exceeded that quite a bit."
Bennett said city workers would continue staying ahead of the second round of snow expected Thursday evening.
"We are well ahead of things and salting and plowing, so we are as prepared as we are ever going to be, so I feel confident," he said. "We will see how it goes from here."
Bel Air Mayor Robert Reier was not too worried about the storm or his town's ability to handle it.
"It's winter and snow is part of it, and we will certainly appreciate spring a lot more," he said Thursday. "It's all good and we will get through it."
"It's definitely been an old-fashioned nor'easter and Maryland snowstorm," he added.
Reier pointed out that a snow day "allows you to re-group," helps the water tables and helps out local farmers.
He also took the higher-than-projected snowfall in stride.
"I think most native Marylanders, we know with storms like this, they are very fluid, so it's hard to give a hard and fast number," he said.
Reier, who often walks his golden retriever around downtown Bel Air, said he let the dog out in the snow earlier on Thursday.
"Certainly he didn't want to come in," Reier said. "He is a big dog, so he's able to navigate himself through it."
About 10 inches of heavy, wet snow was on the ground in Havre de Grace by late Thursday morning, where things were "going well," according to Ofc. Jeff Gilpin of the city police department.
"There have been no incidents related to snow," Gilpin said, adding he didn't think there had been any major calls for service Thursday morning. "Most people are heeding the warnings about being on the roads."
Gilpin left Havre de Grace at 9 p.m. Wednesday and returned around 5:30 a.m. Thursday. The drive from Rising Sun was OK, he said, as long he went slow and was cautious.
"Coming down 155 a bit slippery," he said.
Havre de Grace city crews did their best to keep on top of the snow, the depths of which varied, he said, depending on the drifts. Primarily plows were trying to clean the snow from the snow emergency routes so ambulances can get to Harford Memorial Hospital, then they're getting to other parts as needed.
Havre de Grace Police officers were stationed around the city waiting for calls, Gilpin said. They were also using some of the city's four-wheel drive vehicles to get around town better.
"We have a full staff ready to go at different spots around city so we can get there quickly and safely," he said.
Though no major power outages had been reported around Harford by Thursday afternoon, county emergency operations officials remained concerned about the likelihood of more outages, if winds should pick up or more snow were to fall overnight.
In anticipation, several local fire companies opened as warming centers Thursday, including Level Volunteer Fire Company, 3633 Level Village Road, Havre de Grace; Aberdeen Fire Department House, 21 N. Rogers St., Aberdeen, and House 4, Perryman Road, Aberdeen; Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company main station: 109 S. Hickory Ave., Bel Air, Forest Hill substation, 27 E. Jarrettsville Road, Forest Hill and Paterson Mill substation, 1 Patterson Mill Road, Bel Air; Abingdon Volunteer Fire Company House 1, 3306 Abingdon Road, Abingdon and House 3, 3301 Willoughby Beach Road, Abingdon; Susquehanna Hose Company House 4, 911 Revolution St., Havre de Grace; Havre de Grace Ambulance Corps, 1601 Level Road, Havre de Grace; Whiteford Volunteer Fire Company, 1407 Pylesville Road, Whiteford; Jarrettsville Volunteer Fire Company House 1, 3825 Federal Hill Road, Jarrettsville, and House 2, 4352 Norrisville Road, White Hall; Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company House 1, 1403 Old Mountain Road, Joppa; Darlington Volunteer Fire Company, 2134 Harkins Road, Pylesville; and Fallston Volunteer Fire & Ambo Co., 2201 Carrs Mills Road, Fallston.