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Sleet, snow snares roads in Harford, closes schools early

Highway and Road DisastersCommutingTransportation DisastersWinter Weather and BlizzardsLocal GovernmentNational Weather Service

While the snow had slacked off in Harford County by Monday evening, county emergency officials urged drivers to remain cautious as crews continued to treat and plow the local roads.

"We just want to remind the public that when they're traveling on the road, if the road appears to be wet, to drive defensively and always be cautious for patches of ice," Robert Thomas, spokesman for the Department of Emergency Services, said around 5 p.m. Monday.

Thomas said Department of Public Works crews hit the roads shortly after 4 a.m. and would continue working through the night.

"They have plowed and treated nearly 1,000 road miles throughout the county," he said.

Thomas said northern Harford County received the highest amount of snow, with more than 4 inches falling on the roads.

Snow totals were not available from the National Weather Service late Monday afternoon. Harford was under a winter storm warning until 4 p.m. with 3 to 6 inches expected, according to the earlier NWS forecast.

Thomas noted some of the roads in the northern part of the county still had a "light snow covering."

"Roads will continue to be slippery and hazardous for some time," he said.

Temperatures are expected to dip to 19 degrees in Bel Air Monday night, according to the National Weather Service's website, http://www.weather.gov, making it likely that some roads will be icy into Tuesday morning.

Thomas said county officials are concerned the overnight drop in temperatures "may cause some roads, particularly in developments, cul-de-sacs, side roads, to freeze and remain so until early morning, which should cause some hazardous driving conditions during the morning commute."

The high temperatures Tuesday are expected to be in the low 30s under cloudy skies.

Schools close early

Rain began in the early hours Monday and changed to sleet and snow in the Bel Air area by about 9 a.m. The sleet had changed over to all snow by 10 a.m.

Although Harford County Public Schools opened at their normal time, school officials announced at 9:15 a.m. that classes would be dismissed three hours early, with the high schools closing at 10 a.m., middle schools at 10:45 and elementary schools at 11:30 a.m., with the fourth tier elementary schools dismissing at noon.

"It is a modified dismissal schedule," HCPS spokeswoman Lindsay Bilodeau explained. "When we did our evaluation this morning, it was just rain and the forecast showed it would continue as such until mid-day. Our decision was based on the conditions at the time. However, the line of the storm clipped the North Harford area and they got a burst of snow. We decided to re-evaluate and close because the forecast indicates the line of snow will continue to move east."

Harford Community College closed at 10 a.m. while some private schools, like the Goddard School, said they were staying open.

County government offices remained open during the day, with employees afforded liberal leave if they did not want to take the chance driving to work.

When the snow started to pick up late in the morning, Administrative Judge William O. Carr decided to close the Circuit Courthouse for the remainder of the day.

Harford County parks and recreation officials closed the Eden Mill Nature Center and the Norrisville Library and Recreation Center, both in the northern part of the county, county government spokeswoman Sherrie Johnson said Monday afternoon.

Monday night's Bel Air town meeting was canceled. Also canceled was a community input meeting on the plans for the new Youth's Benefit Elementary School in Fallston. No makeup dates have been announced for either.

Slippery roads

County crews began treating road surfaces before 8 a.m., and the Emergency Operations Center was activated to Level 1, its minimal level of staffing, at 9:30 a.m., Thomas said.

Early in the day, several vehicles slid off roads in the northern part of the county, Thomas said.

A four-vehicle crash was reported on Route 22 at the entrance of Harford Community College around 11 a.m. by the Harford County Fire and EMS Facebook Page.

Rich Gardiner, spokesperson for the association, said the collision occurred on HCC property at the school's entrance near the rear of Wawa and also involved an HCC security vehicle.

Two other vehicles involved slid off the roadway and were stuck, Cristie Kahler, a Harford County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman, said. All those involved in the crash declined medical treatment, Gardiner said.

Another crash, involving a school bus, was reported at nearby Harford Technical High School, Kahler said.

"At dismissal, a student was leaving Harford Tech, turning onto Thomas Run Road, when they slid into a school bus," Kahler said. "There were no students on the bus."

No one was injured and the car suffered minor damage, she said.

Thomas reported shortly before 2 p.m. that the county's 911 center had handled 12 calls regarding vehicle accidents around the county from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday.

All accidents involved property damage only and there were no injuries reported, he said.

Decisions criticized

At least one parent was furious about how the weather situation was handled by HCPS officials.

Laura Gizinski, 31, of Fallston, said HCPS risked her son's life by opening schools, only to close them a few hours later.

Gizinski said she put her son, who attends kindergarten at Youth's Benefit, on the school bus at 8:15 a.m., against her better judgment.

"I went with the benefit of the doubt that the school system knows what they are doing and I put him on the bus," Gizinski said.

A few minutes later, Gizinski, a stay-at-home mom and freelance photographer, said she began to head out to the bank, when she saw the slushy weather conditions on the road. She said she decided to go pick up her son.

"I decided to drive and go get him," Gizinski said. "The driving conditions were atrocious. My car was sliding all over the road and I had to go 5 mph on relatively main roads."

While en route to pick up her son, Gizinski said she received a robocall from HCPS at 9:22 a.m. that schools would be dismissing early. But, her son, an elementary schooler wouldn't be released until 11:30 a.m.

"Who knows what the weather conditions are going to be like later in the day," Gizinski said. "I mean these kids just got to school and they are going to send them back out."

The mother said HCPS needs to do a better job considering adverse weather conditions and at least consider a delay to make a more accurate assessment of the weather.

Bel Air kids happy

Children at Bel Air Elementary School, where pupils were dismissed at noon because of the school's fourth-tier schedule status, were happy to get out early.

"I like all the snow because it makes school canceled!" Maggie Donahue, 7, gushed as she walked along East Lee Street with her family.

The second grader, along with her 6-year-old sister, Annie, who is in kindergarten, walked with their mother, Colleen Donahue, who pulled her two younger children, 3-year-old Fin and 1-year-old Nolan, in a plastic sled through the driving snow. Meanwhile, buses trundled up to the front entrance of the school and Bel Air police officers and school staffers monitored traffic.

"I'm a stay-at-home mother; it's easier for me to adjust than it would be for working parents," Donahue said of the early dismissal.

Pascal Vanpee walked his two children, Sasha, age 10, and Quinn, age 7, toward a commercial parking lot near the school where he had parked.

Vanpee, who is a school bus driver, said he expected the early dismissal as weather conditions worsened.

"It's getting more dangerous," he said. "This morning was perfectly fine to drive."

He noted that he had dropped special-needs students off at the John Archer School east of Bel Air and turned around to pick them up a short time later.

"It's fine," he said. "I'm sure some parents won't understand."

His children were excited to get out of school early. His daughter Sasha, a fifth grader, said she had her morning classes, and even had lunch at 9:45 a.m.

"When I [normally] have it at one o'clock, that's an early lunch," she told her father.

Quinn, a second grader, was eager to go sledding down the hills on the campus of C. Milton Wright High School near Bel Air.

Vanpee said he had discussed snow-day options with his children and anticipated schools could be closed or open late Tuesday.

"It's movie weather today, isn't it, or maybe we go bowling," he said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Highway and Road DisastersCommutingTransportation DisastersWinter Weather and BlizzardsLocal GovernmentNational Weather Service
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