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Weather hazards threaten to complicate holiday travel

Wintry storms could bookend Christmas holiday for East Coast

By Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun

7:41 PM EST, December 23, 2012

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State highway officials are urging motorists heading north and west for the holidays to be cautious, given winter weather conditions expected in some areas in the coming days.

The weather could complicate holiday travel and celebration plans as people look to take advantage of a long weekend, with Christmas falling on a Tuesday this year. More bad weather could hit those traveling between Christmas and New Year's Eve. Rain is expected tomorrow in Baltimore with light snow possible in areas north and west of the city.

A new storm could bring snow as well to the central Appalachians, northern Mid-Atlantic and southern New England on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, according to Accuweather.com. The National Weather Service on Sunday afternoon issued a freezing rain advisory for Garrett County for 5 a.m. until 1 p.m. Monday. Drivers should be prepared for icy surfaces, the weather service warned.

More than 87 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more away from home over the holidays, the travel and auto group AAA has forecast. Nearly nine out of 10 will be on the roads, it said.

Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport officials Sunday said conditions at the airport were normal and they were not expecting signifigant delays.

High wind warnings were issued for much of the state Saturday, but since calmed down as of Sunday morning.  Saturday evening, about 1,500 customers lost power near Annapolis when the weather downed lines, according to Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. Electricity was expected to be restored by Sunday morning. Earlier in the day, the company reported shortly after noon that almost 3,000 customers were without power, most of them in Prince George's County.

By Saturday night, the state transportation department eased wind restrictions in effect Saturday morning for the Bay Bridge. Certain vehicles, such as empty box trailers, that were prohibited from crossing were by Sunday evening advised to find another route.

Meanwhile, a combination of snow and strong wind gusts caused power outages throughout in western Maryland. But as of Sunday morning, Potomac Edison's websites showed few in Garrett and Allegany counties are without power as of about 7 p.m. Saturday. 

Garrett County commissioner James Raley said that even though there were blizzard-like conditions at time, the storm was pretty routine for the area and that most of the roads were passable by the morning. He said he's not aware of any major problems caused by the storm. 

State Police say there was a fatal car collision in Allegany County on Saturday morning at a time when the snow emergency plan was in effect. 

The State Highway Administration is asking travelers to call 511 for traffic and road safety information and to consider postponing trips if necessary.

"What becomes more of a concern closer to Christmas Day is people going regardless of the conditions," administration spokesman David Buck said. "That's always a risky proposition."

The violent weather system that spawned blizzard conditions in the Midwest and tornadoes along the Gulf Coast was complicating travel in the Northeast on Friday, with wind and flooding advisories up and down the Interstate 95 corridor from Maryland to Massachusetts.

Residents in and around Buffalo awoke on Saturday to 4 to 6 inches of snow — the season’s first significant accumulation in the notoriously snowbound region. Typically, the area would have roughly a foot of snow by Christmas, but there has been little or nothing this year.

Several inches of snow fell Saturday in parts of western Pennsylvania. In central New York, snowfall of up to an inch an hour at times was predicted by the National Weather Service.

Beyond that, more treacherous weather could be ahead for the travel period after Christmas. Forecasters are eyeing a storm system that could move from the Mississippi Valley through the Mid-Atlantic in the middle of week. The system could bring a mix of snow, rain and ice to the East Coast, though it isn't clear where the dividing line between rain and wintry precipitation could fall.

Residents of Harrisburg and Scranton, Pa., eastward to Hartford, Conn., and Boston could expect a white Christmas, Accuweather said.

“It could be a white Christmas after all in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, New England and other areas across the nation,” said Alex Sosnowski, Accuweather senior meteorologist. New York City is likely to see a mix of snow and rain, he said.

Forecasters said Saturday that there is a high chance of wind, sleet or snow in the Baltimore region Wednesday and that snow showers are also likely.

sdance@baltsun.com

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Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this article.