www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/harford/forest-hill/ph-ag-tuesday-wednesday-storm-0207-20140204,0,7478389.story

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Ice storm cuts power, closes schools in Harford; county opens shelters

Many people in northern end of county still don't have power

BY KRISHANA DAVIS and DAVID ANDERSON, kdavis@theaegis.com daanderson@theaegis.com

7:08 PM EST, February 5, 2014

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Snow and freezing rain fell across Harford County late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, causing more hazardous driving conditions, closing schools and leaving many homes and businesses without electricity.

Lack of power problems persisted throughout the day, particularly in the northern end of the county.

County emergency officials announced Wednesday afternoon that the Darlington Fire Station on Castleton Road and the Whiteford Fire Station on Pylesville Road will open as shelters.

The county still had more than 13,000 homes and businesses without power just before 5 p.m., the county's Department of Emergency Services reported on Twitter.

Patterson Mill High School opened at 4 p.m. as a shelter, the county's emergency management department said.

The county government also opened a "rumor control line" for "non-emergency calls only" at 410-838-5800.

Emergency officials also warned that high winds and freezing temperatures forecast overnight Wednesday could cause more power outages.

The National Weather Service issued a special weather statement that winds between 15 and 20 miles per hour were expected Wednesday night, Harford emergency operations manager Rick Ayers said via robocoll at about 5 p.m.

With the temperatures set to drop into the teens, more power outages can be expected, Ayers said.

As of 6 p.m., 24 county road were closed because of downed trees or power lines, Department of Emergency Services spokesman Bob Thomas said. Crews were still working to open them, he added.

Closings day, night

The weather also once again played havoc with people's schedules, school classes and activities.

Harford Community College closed at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, after opening late at noon.

"We have ice that is falling down from the trees on the sidewalks that were cleared," HCC spokeswoman Nancy Dysard said, adding the college was also concerned for the safety of students in northern Harford who may be going home to power outages or icy roads later tonight.

Harford County Public Schools, which had called off evening and afternoon activities in advance of the threat of more snow, sleet and freezing rain, canceled all classes Wednesday.

Harford County government announced it would open at 10 a.m. but later said its offices would be closed for the day.

The Circuit and District courthouses in Bel Air both opened.

The roads were mostly clear of any ice by late morning, but the biggest lingering problem from the latest winter storm was fallen tree limbs, snapped off by the weight of the sleet and frozen rain coating them.

Fallen trees and limbs still blocked some roads, and they contributed to widespread outages throughout the day.

Nearly 20,000 Harford County residents were without power Wednesday morning, with Baltimore Gas and Electric customers reporting 14,000 power outages as of 9:30 a.m. and Delmarva Power reported 5,300. BGE has about 100,000 residential and business customers in Harford.

Though some outages were being gradually restored, it was slow going for both power companies.

BGE problems

BGE's online outage map was still showing more than 10,500 customers without power as of 2:30 p.m. Another 6,300 customers had their power restored, according to the map.

The map did not have estimated restoration times posted, but at 5 p.m. it showed 9,100 Harford County customers without power, with over 10,000 restored.

Most of the BGE outages were concentrated in the northwestern and north central Harford, affecting communities such as Fallston, Forest Hill, Monkton and Jarrettsville. A few, however, were reported around Havre de Grace in the southeastern part of the county.

The company sent out a news release at 3 p.m. saying it was working "aggressively" to restore the outages, which were reported all over its service area, affecting some 130,000 customers in the region.

"Freezing rain and ice coated trees and tree limbs, bringing them down onto power lines and other electric delivery equipment, causing significant damage," the company said, noting it had restored service to more than 52,000 customers, using its own crews and contractors. In addition the company said hit had secured mutual assistance from other utilities.

"BGE expects to restore service to the vast majority of customers by Thursday evening with some outages with extensive damage continuing into Friday," the company release states.

BGE customers can report power outages and downed wires at 877-778-2222 or from mobile phones and devices through the mobile website at bge.com

Harford County Councilman Chad Shreds, a BGE customer, lost power at his Norrisville home Wednesday, where he had ice on top of 6 inches of snow left over from Monday's storm.

"I'm freezing, man, and I'm out of firewood!" he exclaimed.

He said conditions were "pretty disastrous" the Norrisville, Pylesville and White Hall areas.

"It's like we had a winter tornado there; just trees down everywhere, a lot of roads are closed," Shrodes said.

Delmarva Power problems

Almost all of Delmarva's Harford customers in northeastern Harford were affected by outages, according to the company's online outage map and company spokespersons.

Through mid-Wednesday morning, almost all of Delmarva's 5,300 Harford customers did not have power.

Restoration efforts did start to reduce those outages significantly as the morning went on.

Nick Morici, a spokesman for Delmarva Power, said about 3,700 the utility's customers in Harford and Cecil counties did not have power as of around 12:25 p.m., with about 3,000 of those customers in Harford.

By 2:30 p.m. the Delmarva online outage map showed 1,700 Harford customers did not have power, but at 5 p.m. the number with power out had risen to 2,450.

Earlier, Morici had noted the icy roads and power lines presented challenging conditions for utility trucks and line workers.

"We are doing everything we can to get that power back on and restore that power in a safe and timely manner," he said.

Harford County government was scheduled to open at 10 a.m., but because inclement weather and hazardous driving conditions, government agencies will remain closed today, said Bob Thomas, spokesperson for the Department of Emergency Services.

Traffic woes

Although Harford County Emergency Services broadcast stated the snow emergency in the county was lifted at noon, the weather impacted the flow of traffic Wednesday morning.

Both county and state roads were affected by blockages caused by trees and downed power lines, and some signals were reported out of operation.

There were 23 roads across the county that are closed or blocked because of fallen trees, branches or down power lines, county Emergency Services spokesman Thomas said about 9:30 a.m.

The traffic signal at the intersection of Baltimore Pike, Fulford Avenue and South Main Street in Bel Air was still out around 10:30 a.m.

The intersection became a four-way stop; red stop signs had been placed at the crosswalks and traffic heading east along Fulford and north along Main was funneled into one lane by a series of cones.

It was one of three traffic lights around the county that had been reported as being knocked out, said David Buck, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Lights were also out at Route 24 and Plumtree Road in Bel Air South, and along Route 22 (Churchville Road) near Saint Mary Magdalen Mission.

Buck noted the traffic signals would come back online as the power comes back to the surrounding area.

"With the power coming on and off at various times, we need folks to make sure they treat dark intersections as four-way stops," he said.

Buck recommended motorists approach such intersections "cautiously" and make eye contact with other motorists, and then "proceed through very slowly and with caution."

The right of way at a four-way intersection typically goes to the driver who gets there first, or the driver on the right.

Buck said drivers should "make sure they're using common sense and good driving etiquette."

There was an earlier road closure at Route 543 just south of Taylor Road because wires down the Harford County Fire and EMS Blog reported. All lanes were blocked.

Buck said BGE officials reported wires were down along Route 646 (Prospect Road) east of the intersection with Route 543 (Ady Road), and the road was expected to be closed for four to five hours.

As of noon, he said, the Route 646 closure was one of 16 along state roads in Harford County because of trees down, many in the northern part of the county.

There were four closures along Route 165, four along Route 23, two along Route 136, and six at locations along Routes 1, 543, 161, 646, 22 and 440.

A tree branch fell through the roof of a mobile home in the 500 block of West Lane near Bel Air, Thomas said. None of the occupants suffered any injuries.

Open for business

Heather Hren of Bel Air stepped outside the Cutting Edge Hair Salon on Bond Street around 9 a.m. Wednesday with a large snow shovel to clear the sidewalk in front of the shop.

The Harford Community College cosmetology and nursing student works there as a shampoo girl as she learns the business.

She said the local main roads had been well salted but the back roads were not completely clear.

"I'm tired of it; it can leave, I don't want any more snow," she said. "I'd rather have school and work than deal with snow and driving in it."

The Bel Air Bakery, several doors down, opened an hour late Wednesday.

Manager Kim Dowell said the shop typically opens at 6 a.m., but she opened at 7 a.m., with her daily commute from Cecil County in mind.

"I wasn't about to chance it," she said while decorating cupcakes. "We have more ice out there [in Cecil] than we do down here."

She noticed traffic lights were out at two intersections in Harford, Route 1 and Route 136 and Route 1 and Castleton Road in the Darlington area.

She said the light at the first intersection was out with no indicators or police directing traffic, but flares were out at the second intersection.

"You just saw all the trees with the ice hanging," Dowell recalled. "The roads, they were pretty clear."

The weather conditions varied from one part of Harford County to another.

Janine Szabad, manager of the Little NY Deli on Main Street in Bel Air, recalled seeing an immediate shift between rain and ice during her drive up Route 24 and then Route 924 from her home in Edgewood.

"The temperature started going down," she said. "It was wildest thing."

Szabad said the shift, which occurred at Route 924 and Patterson Mill Road, about two miles south of her work, was "like a curtain."

"Then all these trees were covered in ice and snow," she said.