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Four to 10 inches of snow possible in Tuesday's snowstorm

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As snow started to fall across Maryland, highway officials urged people to stay off the roads, schools and offices closed, and flights were delayed. By early afternoon, multiple accidents and backups were reported throughout the area.

The National Weather Service forecast calls for up to 10 inches of snow in some outer suburban areas and up to eight inches in Baltimore, with a wind chill as low as 10 degrees below zero at night. Snow will be heaviest in the late morning into the afternoon, but it will be constant, according to the weather service. It’ll start tapering off between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. in the Baltimore area, forecasters say. 

"Baltimore is going to be one of the last places where the snow is going to stop," NWS meteorologist Andy Woodcock said.

Daytime temperatures likely will fall to the teens, and winds are predicted at 10 to 15 mph, with gusts up to 30 mph in the afternoon and evening.

Slick, snow-covered roads are predicted, along with visibility that may drop to less than a half-mile. The Maryland Transportation Authority said fog warnings were in effect along Interstate 695 near Baltimore. The MdTA said the Bay Bridge was under wind restrictions and "white out conditons" are expected.

"Please heed the warnings to stay off the roads this afternoon -- it will not be safe to be out later today in heavy, blowing snow with frigid temperatures," said SHA Administrator Melinda B. Peters in a statement. "SHA crews will continue to plow and battle Mother Nature; however, it will take four to six hours to reach bare pavement after precipitation stops, which isn’t predicted to happen until late tonight."

Around 2 p.m. all lanes of Interstate 95 south at exit 64 were closed for crash with personal injury. It reopened, but a backup remained.

The SHA also warned of "plow trains" -- or lines of plow trucks lining up in multiple lanes of a highway and clearing left to right. "Under no circumstances should drivers try to cut through or go around a plow train," the SHA said.

As of 10:30 a.m., the State Highway Administration had 2,600 pieces of equipment and about 1,400 state personnel working on roads statewide. Emergency snow operations were in effect in most of the state, including Montgomery, Prince George's, Howard, Carroll, Arundel, Harford and Baltimore counties, said Sandy Dobson, a SHA spokeswoman.

In other central Maryland counties, crews were on standby, waiting for accumulation to begin plowing. Plows are already operating in Western counties, where salt is being reapplied to roads, Dobson said. Roads across the state were pre-treated with salt last night, to get ahead of the storm, she said.

"It's moving pretty quickly, and we're very concerned about people being on the roads this afternoon, because of the falling temperature and the high winds expected," Dobson said.

Those winds, expected to reach between 35 mph and 45 mph, will complicate SHA operations, including along the Interstate 95 corridor, because they will blow plowed snow back onto cleared roadways, she said.

"You can go from a clear road in the blink of an eye to a covered road because of the blowing snow," she said, adding that visibility will also be low. 

"We're concerned about this afternoon's commute and hoping people will get off the road as quick as possible," Dobson said.

The SHA has an app on its website listing park-and-rides where truckers are encouraged to stop if snow begins accumulating, Dobson said. "We don't want them on the side of the road," she said.

She said drivers can also get information about the weather and safe driving at www.roads.maryland.gov, she said.

One reminder is that state law requires drivers to have their headlights on if their windshield wipers are on, Dobson said. "There have been so many complaints of people not heeding this," she said.

The Maryland Transit Administration warned customers that buses and trains "can be delayed because of weather and traffic," and to allow extra travel time. "Also, remember to dress warmly when traveling," the MTA said.

Among the bus issues: 77 Line is now bypassing Catonsville Community College and  97 Line is bypassing the Monteverde Housing Complex, officials said.

About 12:15 p.m., about a third of all flights at BWI -- 99 in total -- were canceled, with another 10 percent delayed, according to Flightaware.com, which tracks cancellations and delays. Flights were canceled up and down the East Coast, according to FlightAware.com At Washington Dulles International Airport, 30 percent of flights were cancelled and 2 percent were delayed as of about 12:30 p.m. At Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, 38 percent were cancelled and 3 percent were delayed.

Southwest Airlines, which is the largest carrier out of BWI, was canceling many flights that somehow effect Baltimore, but exact numbers were not immediately available, said Brad Hawkins, a Southwest spokesman.

Some airlines have relaxed policies for changing flights through Wednesday, said Jonathan Dean, an airport spokesman.

Harbor taxi services was canceled as of 12:30 p.m., according Baltimore Water Taxi, which operates the city-owned and private taxis that traverse the harbor.

Amtrak was operating on a normal Tuesday schedule along the Northeast Corridor as of about 11:45 a.m., though officials are "keeping an eye on conditions and will adjust as necessary," said Craig Shulz, an Amtrak spokesman.

Meanwhile, Baltimore health officials declared a Code Blue alert warning of potentially dangerous conditions. "The low temperatures we are expecting on Tuesday and Wednesday, combined with the snow we are expecting, will potentially cause dangerous outdoor conditions," Baltimore City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, M.D., said in a statement on Monday.

There have been seven cold-related deaths so far this winter, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Two of them, a male between 45 and 64-years-old, and a woman, older than age 65, occurred in Baltimore City, according to officials.

During Code Blue conditions, emergency shelters extend their hours and emergency workers seek out vulnerable people in an attempt to prevent hypothermia and other weather-related deaths.

Public schools in Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County were closed Tuesday in anticipation of the snow, while Howard County, Harford County and Carroll County schools were closed for a previously scheduled staff development day. Many private schools and colleges around the region also closed, including Morgan State University, Towson University and the University of Baltimore.

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and the B&O Railroad Museum were among the attractions closed on Tuesday.

The state of Maryland said it would close offices and facilities at 11 a.m., but emergency essential employees report as scheduled. Federal government offices in the Washington area closed for all but essential staff. The U.S. Naval Academy was closed and Fort Meade declared a liberal leave policy.

Some local government offices and courts also closed or declared a liberal leave policy for employees.

In Anne Arundel, County Executive Laura Neuman said warming centers will open at 8 a.m. at all four district police stations for people without other shelter. Residents should bring their own sleeping bags and other bedding as well as food, water and medications.

In Annapolis, officials asked residents to park cars in driveways and off the streets to allow snow plows to clear them.

Some in Baltimore continued working despite the bad weather. Chad Barnhill, general manager of the rising Horseshoe Casino on Russell Street, tweeted a picture of crews working Tuesday, writing, "Snow is not slowing the construction crew down!"

As the storm moved east, closures and emergency operations spread as well. Officials in Ocean City partially activated the town's emergency operations center and authorized liberal leave for city employees as of 2 p.m. The town also canceled a City Council meeting for Tuesday night. A winter storm warning was in effect in the city through midnight. 

The areas affected by the storm warning include Baltimore City and Baltimore, Howard, Harford, Anne Arundel, Prince George's, Frederick, Montgomery, St. Mary's, Calvert and Charles counties.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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