Massive piles of snow, leftovers from the recent snowstorms in Harford County, are shrinking and should get even smaller, as temperatures are forecast rise into the 50s this weekend.
But the melting snow still presents risks, including overnight refreezing on roads and sidewalks and the potential for flooding, especially with rain also in the forecast.
"It's a cyclical situation, and it happens any time that we have an accumulation of snow followed by melting followed by refreezing," Robert Thomas, spokesman for the Harford County Department of Emergency Services, said Thursday morning.
Thomas said 12 vehicle accidents occurred Thursday around the county, "due to icing conditions," within one hour – from 7 to 8 a.m.
He said the water created by melting snow during the day typically refreezes as temperatures drop below freezing at night. The ice sticks around on sidewalks, roads and bridges for the morning commute until it begins to melt later, as the sun and temperatures rise, he said.
In addition to the 12 vehicle accidents Thursday, Thomas said there have been reports of people falling while walking on icy steps, sidewalks and parking lots.
"This is a time that's going to require caution, and people have to be extra careful, whether they're driving or walking, because of these changing weather conditions," he said.
Jim Keithley, a facilities worker for Harford County Public Schools, was spreading salt on the sidewalk leading from Bel Air Elementary School to the parking lot in front former Board of Education headquarters on Gordon Street Thursday morning.
Portions of the sidewalk and shoulders of Gordon were coated with a thin layer of ice that made walking treacherous.
The combined snowfalls of the past week and a half have dropped more than 20 inches on the northern and central areas of the county and more than a foot on southern portions.
The biggest blast of 12 to 18 inches hit during the night of Feb. 12 and the morning of Feb. 13; about 2 to 4 more inches of snow and freezing rain followed the evening and night of Feb. 13. At least another inch fell across the county Tuesday morning.
Since then, however, daytime temperatures have made it well into the 40s and are headed higher, according to the latest National Weather Service forecast for Harford.
Piles of dirty snow tower above one's head on the edges of retail parking lots, but those piles are rapidly shrinking.
Thomas said "spot flooding" could take place in low-lying areas as the snow melts, and water could pool on the roads.
"We haven't seen flooding issues to date," he said. "The temperature over the next four to five days will certainly help reduce the amount of snow that's currently covering grounds and walkways and driveways, but it also creates the additional water problems that can occur with flooding."
Husdon Myers, deputy director of public works for the county, said DPW officials "don't anticipate a major flooding event from the snow melt."
He said public works crews have been clearing blocked culverts and storm drains to help keep water off the roads, and he encouraged residents to do the same.
Myers said people can contact public works through the county government website, http://www.harfordcountymd.gov if they need help clearing nearby storm drains.
The high temperature Thursday was forecast for 48 degrees, and the mercury is predicted to hit 55 degrees Friday, according to the National Weather Service's website.
There is also a 100 percent chance of rain Friday. Conditions will be sunny and temperatures will be in the 50s Saturday and Sunday, according to the NWS forecast.