By Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun
2:15 PM EST, February 6, 2014
Some of the more than 170,000 power outages caused by a thick glaze of ice across the state Wednesday might not be repaired until Friday, utility officials said, prompting leaders in two counties to open shelters at schools that were closed for the day because of slick roads strewn with tree limbs.
Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials said the ice was impeding power restoration efforts but they expect to have most customers' electricity back on by Thursday evening. Freezing rain, falling on top of snow and sleet in some areas, laid down a coat of up to a half-inch of ice in parts of Carroll County and a quarter-inch closer to Baltimore.
Gusty winds overnight into Thursday were expected to cause new outages, and by the time the cleanup is finished, more wintry precipitation is possible. Snow is forecast Saturday and Sunday, though meteorologists said they had low confidence in predictions of how much.
Wednesday's ice damage was frustrating for those weary from a winter that has been snowier than the past two and the coldest in decades.
"I've got a mountain of limbs I'm starting to pile up," said Jason Miller, who had to clear branches as thick as soccer balls from his driveway in Phoenix so his wife could get to work Wednesday morning. "It's like a little war zone."
Power outages statewide peaked at about 151,000 around midday Wednesday and fell to about 56,000 by 2 p.m. Thursday, according to the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, though that number offers only a snapshot and not the full number of outages that have occurred. In BGE's territory, outages peaked at 92,000 about 11:30 a.m., but the total number of outages reached 172,000, the utility said Thursday.
Utility workers had restored 80 percent of outages as of 2 p.m. Thursday, with fewer than 33,000 outages remaining. The outages were mostly concentrated in Baltimore County, which had about 18,000 households without power, and in Carroll County, which had about 10,000 outages, 16 percent of Carroll residents.
Early Wednesday morning, a half-inch of ice was measured in Manchester, in northeastern Carroll County, with a quarter-inch in Catonsville and 0.15 inches in White Marsh, according to reports received by the National Weather Service.
Forecasters had expected temperatures to warm into the 40s Wednesday afternoon, but they hovered close to freezing. Temperatures were expected to stay below freezing throughout Thursday.
Ice slows repair work by making transportation and conditions more treacherous, coating pavement as well as tree limbs that need to be removed and the power lines themselves, said Steve Woerner, BGE's chief operating officer.
While the utility had cut outages in half by about 5 p.m. Wednesday, restoring power to more than 74,000 customers, progress Thursday would be slower, Woerner said. About 300 repair jobs had been completed to get the lights back on for those customers, but 3,500 jobs remained, he said. The utility's plan of attack after storms focuses on repairs that affect the largest numbers of customers first.
Among the many people coping with cold temperatures in their homes as they awaited utility workers in their neighborhoods was Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith.
"I'm in my house like this ... but y'all playing," Smith tweeted to BGE's official account, along with a picture of himself wearing a winter hat and hooded sweatshirt.
Harford County Councilman Chad Shrodes, a BGE customer, lost power at his Norrisville home Wednesday, where he had ice on top of 6 inches of snow left from Monday's storm.
"I'm freezing, man, and I'm out of firewood," he said. "It's like we had a winter tornado there; just trees down everywhere, a lot of roads are closed."
County governments offered shelters for residents who needed a place to warm up. Carroll County opened Winters Mill High School to the public, offering cots, blankets and food until further notice. Harford County opened Patterson Mill High School in Bel Air as a shelter. The Red Cross is assisting at those shelters and has opened two others in Harford, at the Darlington and Whiteford volunteer fire departments.
State highway officials expected pavement in many areas to dry by Wednesday afternoon but kept crews at the ready overnight to deal with any wet spots at risk of freezing, spokesman David Buck said. More than 1,800 State Highway Administration trucks were out salting roads through Wednesday morning, officials said.
Highway officials are keeping an eye on forecasts for the weekend, and Buck said they are ready to respond if snow appears likely. The state has about 280,000 tons of salt in its storage domes and sheds, with a capacity for 360,000 tons, he said. State trucks have spread 300,000 tons of salt during 25 events this winter, he said.
Forecasters say it is too soon to predict whether there will be a significant snowstorm over the weekend. Two systems are expected — one a "clipper" that comes from the west and is known for light dustings of snow, and the other a low-pressure system moving up the coast from the Carolinas, known for bringing nor'easter-type storms that dump heavier snow.
There's a chance that no significant snow could fall, or a possibility of a few inches, said Carl Barnes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Baltimore-Washington forecast office. This winter, 9.5 inches of snow have fallen at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, the most since 14 inches fell at the airport in winter 2010-2011.
"It does look like we will probably be affected by some kind of wintry precipitation maybe Saturday night into Sunday," he said. "It's not a real clear-cut scenario like our big snowfalls are sometimes."
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Carrie Wells, Blair Ames, Sara Toth, Krishana Davis and David Anderson contributed to this article.
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