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Snow falls ahead of frigid temperatures

By Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun

11:11 PM EST, January 2, 2014

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As much as 5 inches of snow fell Thursday evening in parts of northern Maryland ahead of wind chills expected to drop close to zero during the day Friday.

Early snowfall totals included 5 inches in Bel Air, 5 inches in Columbia, 4.8 inches in Westminster, 4.6 inches in Glyndon, 3.5 inches in Morrell Park in Baltimore City, and 3 inches in Crownsville, according to the National Weather Service. Snow was expected to persist until around midnight, when winter storm warnings for northern Baltimore County and Harford County were set to expire.

Beyond the snow, winds were expected to pick up considerably. A wind chill advisory is in effect across Central Maryland from 4 a.m. to noon Friday, with conditions feeling as cold as 5 degrees below zero.

The State Highway Administration urged drivers to take caution Thursday night into Friday, with strong winds expected to blow the falling snow and reduce visibility. Cold overnight temperatures are also a risk for drivers who could get stranded, spokeswoman Jessica Puchala said. The administration has 2,200 trucks ready for plowing, she said.

The cold temperatures could challenge crews’ abilities to keep roads from freezing. Rock salt is effective to about 20 degrees, so in colder conditions crews coat the salt with a brine solution that is effective to 6 degrees below zero, state highway spokeswoman Lora Rakowski said. Officials will be monitoring pavement temperatures around the state, she said.

Rakowski urged drivers to delay travel through early Friday morning if necessary, adding that it only takes a single collision or stalled vehicle to snarl traffic and delay road-clearing efforts.

Two dozen flights were canceled at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on Thursday, with more than 200 delayed, according to FlightAware.com. About 2,000 flights were canceled across the country, with more than 5,000 delayed, according to the website.

School systems around the region braced for snowfall Thursday afternoon. After-school activities in Howard, Carroll and Baltimore counties were canceled on what was the first day back from winter break.

Meteorology website Foot's Forecast suggests about 50 percent chances the storm either under- or over-performs, depending on where a coastal low-pressure system tracks. If the system forms out at sea and doesn't strengthen as much as expected, it could diminish snow totals, but if it develops closer to the coast or strengthens rapidly, snow could continue falling longer and heavier than predicted.

Local meteorologist "Eric the Red" is calling for as much as 8 inches of snow in parts of northern and northeastern Maryland. He also cautions that although the snow is expected to taper off well before daybreak, the Friday morning commute could be treacherous as strong winds from the north could send any snow into drifts.

After the snow passes, frigid air and blustery winds are expected. Highs Friday could only reach the lower 20s, with 20-30 mph wind gusts making it feel as cold as the mid-single digits. Mostly sunny skies are expected.

Baltimore City health officials declared a "Code Blue" alert starting 6 p.m. Thursday and lasting through Friday. The designation mobilizes resources to ensure the homeless and other vulnerable populations are sheltered from the cold.

“Tonight the cold air is going to come in pretty fast,” said Kyle Struckmann, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Baltimore/Washington forecast office. “If there’s any areas that are wet or didn’t freeze because of road treatments, those are probably going to freeze over pretty quickly tonight.”

A relative respite from the cold temperatures is forecast in the Baltimore area for the weekend, with temperatures possibly rising into the 40s, but another chill is ahead Monday and Tuesday. Air temperatures are forecast to reach the single digits Monday night, and close to zero in the suburbs.

Temperatures haven’t reached the single digits in Baltimore’s official weather record since Jan. 24, 2011, when BWI reached 8 degrees. It could be Baltimore’s coldest night since Jan. 17, 2009, when BWI dropped to 2 degrees.