Wintry mess a headache for Harford drivers Wednesday; snow plow knocks out power at jail

A triple threat of snow, rain and sleet made negotiating Harford County roads pretty miserable throughout Wednesday, especially during the morning commute.

More of the same could be in store for the last weekend of 2012, according to the National Weather Service.

The wet, slick roads Wednesday resulted in a number of accidents being reported around the county, including one involving a dump truck with snow plow that knocked out power to the Harford County Detention Center north of Bel Air for about four hours.

In addition, a transformer fire was reported in the vicinity of Route 24 and Colgate Drive in Forest Hill shortly after 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, which in turn caused power outages in the adjoining commercial areas and in nearby neighborhoods.

Other power outages were noted elsewhere in Harford by Baltimore Gas & Electric, as the wet weather gave way to blustery, gusting winds overnight Wednesday.

For the day after Christmas, Harford joined the rest of the region in being hit with snow that turned into a slushy, occasionally slippery mess, identified by weather forecasters as the more pleasant-sounding "wintry mix."

The gray day began with flurries and wet snow before changing over to freezing rain in many areas, complicating the post-Christmas shopping rush and making driving or walking more challenging.

A dozen accidents

By mid-afternoon, the Harford County Sheriff's Office said it handled about 12 accidents countywide since the snow started falling early in morning.

"Northern Precinct responded to 10 while Southern responded to [two]," Eddie Hopkins, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, said via e-mail. "They were all weather-related. They were all relatively minor."

Hopkins said the precipitation caused "very slippery conditions" when the snow was falling at its heaviest in areas north and west of Bel Air.

The accidents let up as the snow switched to rain, he said.

"Since the rain has started falling and the temps have risen a little, the rate of accidents has slowed considerably," he said. "There were no backups anywhere. Any roads temporarily closed due to ice or slippery conditions have since reopened."

Wires down near jail

The detention center lost power in the early afternoon after a snow plow truck ran into two utility poles on Route 924 near the entrance to the jail.

No one was injured in the incident, but Route 924 was closed during the early afternoon as wires blocked the road, Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Association said on its media Facebook page.

The road was "impassable in both directions in front of the detention center, including the off ramps from the bypass," the association reported in the post.

The accident led to the afternoon's bail review hearings being canceled at the Harford County District Court in downtown Bel Air. Defendants who are having bail hearings appear via closed circuit television from the jail.

The Bel Air Volunteer Fire Co. had cleared the scene by about 1:30 p.m., but the road remained closed for clean-up, according to the Fire and EMS Association.

Hopkins, of the Sheriff's Office, said the jail complex has a standby generator and had its regular power restored by 4:30 p.m.

The outage meant the detention center went on lockdown and prisoner movement was limited throughout the facility. Afternoon visitation was also canceled, he said.

"Everything gets canceled, everything gets postponed," he said of the situation. "Any hearings that were necessitated this afternoon were moved to tomorrow [Thursday]."

Hopkins said the incident did not severely impact operations at the detention center and no calls for service came from the facility.

"It's something that we encounter once in a while," he said.

Other than Route 924, Hopkins said he only knew of two other roads that were closed for about 30 minutes for accidents, both in Fallston. One was Ryan Road near Carrs Mill Road and the other was Hess Road just west of Route 152.

Transformer fire

The call for a transformer fire in the Rock Spring area between Bel Air and Forest Hill was dispatched to the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company just after 5:30 p.m., according to monitored Harford County emergency radio broadcasts.

An Aegis photographer driving through the area said power appeared to be out in the Forest Lakes Community and at ShopRite, Chick-fil-A and other commercial establishments north along Route 24 to just before Jarrettsville Road in the center of Forest Hill.

By 9 p.m., power was back in much of the commercial area along Route 24 and in Forest Lakes. The BGE online outage map, however, was still showing about 150 customers without power in the area of Route 24 and Newport Drive.

The BGE outage map showed just six of the company's 100,097 Harford County customers were without power as of early Thursday afternoon; however, the map also showed that 2,048 had power restored since Wednesday's weather event.

More wet weather coming

Though the rain finally moved out of Harford and skies over Bel Air cleared by 8:30 Thursday morning, there is likely to be only a brief respite from snow and rain.

After sunny skies today (Friday), with a high forecast near 40, clouds are expected move into Harford County overnight in advance of some potentially slippery weather Saturday.

As of late Thursday, the National Weather Service forecast for the Bel Air area said to expect snow before 9 a.m. Saturday, followed by rain and snow the rest of the daylight hours.

The high temperature forecast for Saturday is 35 degrees, and the NWS forecast says there is an 80 percent chance of precipitation with new amounts between a tenth and a quarter of an inch possible.

The NWS forecast for Sunday is for partly sunny skies with a high near 35.

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