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Baltimore area readies for messy commute Monday morning

Winter is not quite ready to leave Baltimore.

Weather forecasters called for a wintry mix of rain and snow to start falling late Sunday and into Monday that was likely to complicate morning commutes.

The forecast is for "a slushy inch" of accumulation at most in Baltimore on Monday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Witt. Parts of Carroll, Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties could see 1 to 3 inches. Much of the accumulation is expected to be on grassy areas.

By about 7 p.m. Sunday, snow had started falling in Garrett County, and the State Highway Administration had crews working there, agency spokeswoman Lora Rakowski said. She said the statewide Emergency Operations Center would be activated at midnight Sunday and salt trucks and snowplows would be ready.

"We're going to be keeping a very close eye on the storm and will deploy resources as needed," she said, advising drivers to check forecasts before Monday's morning commute.

The National Weather Service doesn't expect much snow to stick, particularly in Baltimore. Alan Reppert, senior meteorologist for AccuWeather.com, agrees.

"It's probably going to struggle to accumulate at all on any roadways," Reppert said.

But even minimal snow could be enough to annoy residents across the region who just want spring to show up already.

Cold weather — without snow — has been stubborn this winter, resulting in poor crab harvests in the Gulf of Mexico and delaying the start of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington. Since the "Snowmageddon" of 2009-2010, winters have been light on snow. This winter, about 5 inches of snow have fallen at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, compared with 18 to 20 inches in a typical winter.

Earlier this month, forecasters predicted a last-gasp snow dump of as much as a foot in Baltimore, though it ended up primarily as a cold rain in most parts of the region. The Mid-Atlantic is a difficult region for weather forecasts because of the interactions between mountains, the Chesapeake Bay, the Atlantic Ocean and different jet stream branches.

This month's storm was serious, however, in the Atlantic Ocean. Walter Tate, 80, and his nephew, Stephen Tate, 60, of New Bern, N.C., were deemed lost at sea when they were swept off a fishing vessel near Assateague Island. Two Marylanders were also rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard when the sailboat they were ferrying from Severn, Va., to Pensacola, Fla., ran out of fuel.

For warm-weather fans, there's good news: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's national forecast calls for a warmer-than-usual spring, though the National Weather Service also says cold temperatures will likely hang around for a few more weeks.

The chance of precipitation Monday is almost 100 percent, the agency said, with snow likely falling off and on from Sunday night through Monday afternoon. Snow could fall during both the morning and afternoon commutes, but officials expect it will largely melt or be washed away by rain before it can amount to much.

"Warmer air near the bay waters is going to play a big impact," said Greg Schoor, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Baltimore-Washington office. "So expectation is not that high for accumulating snow much more than a light dusting or coating."

The story could be very different in parts of Western Maryland. The National Weather Service is forecasting up to 8 inches in parts of Allegany County.

The Interstate 95 line, which roughly tracks with the fall line separating the Piedmont plateau and the coastal plain, often serves as the line predicting snowfall amounts — heavier snow west of I-95 and lighter snow east of the highway.

Accumulation is most likely Monday afternoon, when the National Weather Service expects to see colder air moving in. The forecast is for temperatures in the mid- to high 30s in Baltimore and a few degrees colder in the suburbs in the afternoon.

But the weather service warned that snowstorms are tricky to predict this time of year, let alone the amount that sticks.

"You might have a couple of inches of snowfall, but what equates on the ground is next to nothing," Schoor said.

Reppert said it doesn't look like it will start looking more like spring in the near future.

"Unfortunately, we look like we're in this cooler pattern at least for the rest of the week," he said.

Reppert said snowfall is hard to predict in March because the air near the ground is typically a few degrees above freezing, but a hard-driving snow or a dip of just a few degrees can change the snow accumulation drastically.

cwells@baltsun.com

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