Though snow plows had started to clear its steep streets by Tuesday afternoon, historic Ellicott City was nearly deserted, and Len Berkowitz cut a lonely figure as he swept up powdery snow from the sidewalk in front of his business.
The co-owner of Great Panes Art Glass Studio said many of Main Street's merchants depended on foot traffic, which make opening in a storm impractical.
And storming it was — much of Howard County shut down Jan. 21, as the region braced for the second round of a "polar vortex," ushered in by what Triple A warned could be the worst storm in three years.
Cacao Lane Restaurant was one of the only open businesses in Old Ellicott City, where few cars and pedestrians trudged along the picturesque but unplowed streets. Dan Murphy stood idly behind the nearly empty bar, where he and a few employees had just returned after shoveling the sidewalk out front.
"We'll be open till last call," he said. "The snow makes for a locals night, because they can't go anywhere."
The first flakes started to fall early Tuesday, with snow accumulating on roads a little before 10 a.m. The heaviest snows were expected during midday and the afternoon, snarling evening rush hour traffic.
Temperatures were set to dip into the teens and single digits early Wednesday morning in the wake of a front that was expected to bring six to 10 inches of snow to the county, according to the National Weather Service. Howard County was under a winter storm warning for much of Tuesday, followed by a wind-chill advisory through Wednesday.
But numerous county offices and businesses had closed for the weather, which soon turned from snow to bitter cold. Wind chills were expected to be between five and 15 degrees below zero Tuesday night through Wednesday morning, with lows in the single digits Tuesday night and in the teens on Wednesday. Winds with gusts up to 40 miles per hour were forecast for Wednesday morning.
Bert and Will Wilson, a father and son who own BTU Energy, were thankful that they work from home as they shoveled their Ellicott City steps Tuesday afternoon.
Bert Wilson shrugged when asked how he was dealing with it.
"It's just part of living here," he said.
The Howard County Library System, Howard County Recreation and Parks facilities and Howard Community College were closed Tuesday, as were county senior centers. The Howard County Center for the Arts and the Welcome Center in historic Ellicott City were closed, and a County Council public hearing Tuesday night was rescheduled for Wednesday. Columbia Association's liberal leave policy for employees was in effect, and all classes, programs and activities after 10 a.m. were canceled.
Students already had the day off in the Howard County Public School System for a professional development day. Teachers and staff were initially supposed to report to work at 10 a.m., but schools and offices closed as well because of the weather, and all evening activities were canceled. School officials said the day did not count as an inclement weather day, and would not have to be made up at the end of the school year.
Some people made good use of their day off.
The Greene Turtle in Columbia extended a "Snowpoolooza" happy hour all day for customers who were taking refuge from the storm with beer and cocktails Tuesday afternoon.
David Brown said he stopped by the Greene Turtle because "I can't stay home all day" — even in a snowstorm.
Down the bar, Veronica Taylor and her cousin Christian Acosta said they had ended up at the Greene Turtle after another pub where they had planned to meet was closed. "We just kind of lucked into this place," Taylor said.
The two hadn't seen each other in a while but were determined to meet up while Acosta, who lives in Chicago, was in town.
Acosta said he wasn't fazed by the snow. "I'm from Chicago, " he said.
Taylor agreed: "Baltimore and the east coast definitely make a big deal of the snow."
Baltimore Sun staff contributed to this report.