Winter lovers enjoyed a light snowfall in the Baltimore region Saturday without many of the usual headaches, as the snow passed after several hours with few traffic concerns. But State Highway Administration officials urged motorists to continue to be cautious of roads freezing over.
Early in the new year, forecasters expect some rain with a slim chance of more wintry precipitation. Also, a significant chill could be on the way, bringing a chance for the first full day of sub-freezing temperatures in nearly a year in Baltimore.
A dusting to about 3 inches fell across the Baltimore region, slicking roads on the quiet holiday weekend. It was a third snow for the region in less than a week, but accumulation was again thin around Baltimore. Road crews had readied for potentially messier conditions.
The snow got off to a mid-morning start, later than expected because of a wedge of dry air that formed over Maryland between two low-pressure systems, forecasters said. That kept the heaviest snowfall to the north and west of Baltimore, which saw the "light snow event" predicted by the National Weather Service, said Brian Lasorsa, a meteorologist at the Baltimore/Washington forecast office.
"It was a fairly weak storm system," Lasorsa said Saturday afternoon. "It's intensifying now, but all the moisture is up in New England now. Had the system intensified quicker, it would have snowed more here."
The system prompted winter storm warnings along the New England coastline from Connecticut to Maine through early Sunday morning, with as much as 10 inches of snow expected there.
In Maryland, highway crews were idle at first light after an initial burst of snow ended abruptly. Along Route 100 in Anne Arundel County, seven plow and sanding trucks were queued on the ramp just east of U.S. 1.
The massive screens at State Highway Administration emergency operations center near Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport showed wet roads near Salisbury and white roads in Garrett County with long stretches of black asphalt in between.
Roads stayed mostly clear of snow in Central Maryland, at least in part because of liquid brine solution crews sprayed down Friday. State highway spokesman Charlie Gischlar said there were only "a handful" of accidents reported, none of them major.
"Our response is always going to be to err on the side of an overabundance of caution," said David Buck, another state highway spokesman. "We want to put the appropriate number of trucks out for the forecast. We can never be the agency that says, 'Whoops, we missed that one.'"
The heaviest snow fell along the Mason-Dixon Line, with 2.5 inches north of Manchester, 2.8 inches near Westminster and 3 inches in Emmitsburg. Farther south, 1.1 inches fell in Long Green, 1.3 in Bel Air and 0.8 in Brooklyn Park, according to early reports. At BWI, 0.4 inches fell through 1 p.m.
The snow tapered off across the region by about 3 p.m., when the weather service canceled winter weather advisories for northern counties.
As of Saturday late afternoon, SHA officials said they were keeping a handful of crews in maintenance facilities west of the Chesapeake Bay to patrol for icy patches that may develop as temperatures dropped through the evening and overnight. Motorists were urged to used special caution on bridges, ramps and overpasses for possible icy conditions.
Weather service forecasters expect the next chance for precipitation — likely rain — to come New Year's Day, and colder weather could follow. One possibility is a weak clipper system, known for quick, light snowfalls, according to forecast discussions, but what appears more likely is a blast of cold air.
Some models are forecasting highs to stay below freezing Friday, something that hasn't occurred at BWI since Feb. 12.
Baltimore Sun reporter Candy Thomson contributed to this article.
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