The biggest snowfall in four years blanketed the Baltimore area Thursday with up to a foot and a half of snow, giving many schoolchildren two more days off and stranding residents and travelers. As the region dug out, two men died after shoveling.
In Howard County, two men suffered suspected heart attacks as they shoveled, prompting local officials to urge residents to take it easy clearing snow made heavy by periods of rain.
Many flights were canceled and many roads were impassable for part of the day. At least five people in Anne Arundel County were taken to hospitals, including two to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, after traffic accidents.
Most activities around the state — besides shoveling and sledding — came to a halt, with schools and government offices closed amid a boom of teleworking. Meanwhile, some businesses tried to take advantage of cabin fever. One restaurateur gave customers rides to his diner; a brew pub offered free beer.
The storm could become one of the region's biggest single-day snowfalls on record once Thursday night's accumulation is measured. And there will be little rest for the weary: More snow is forecast for early Saturday.
Some Friday closures were announced Thursday. Baltimore and Harford counties planned to open offices late. School districts in the city and in Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Anne Arundel counties said they would close. Howard schools' students were already scheduled to be off Friday.
For some, it is one more blow in a winter that has been one of the coldest and snowiest in years.
"It's pretty tough, I mean compared to last year," said Reservoir Hill resident Donald Williams as he dug out his car to go somewhere — anywhere. "This year it's always something, isn't it?"
Despite concerns that heavy snow and gusting winds would keep utility crews busy Thursday, few power outages were reported across the region. Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said a lack of freezing rain and icy conditions helped prevent outages.
Just under 2,000 customers statewide were without power as of 7 a.m. Friday, according to state emergency management officials, with about a quarter of those in Baltimore County.
State and local governments geared up for the event. The State Highway Administration used nearly 2,800 plows and other snow-removal equipment, while 500 members of the Maryland National Guard and 150 additional state police officers were on duty to respond to calls for assistance, Gov. Martin O'Malley said.
Transportation officials and drivers reported relatively clear conditions on main roads by Thursday morning, including Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake reporting 90 percent of city arteries cleared by 11 a.m.
Some residents nevertheless took advantage of alternative modes of transportation, from snowshoes to dog-powered sleds.
"The skis are waxed," said Steve Bickling as he trekked through Canton on cross country skis. "It's not ideal, but it's enough fun to get out and get some exercise."
The storm arrived Wednesday night an hour or two earlier than expected with an intensity on the higher end of the range meteorologists had predicted. With snow falling at up to 3 inches per hour overnight, the region awoke to more than 6 inches and in some cases a foot of heavy, wet snow.
At Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, slightly more than a foot was measured by 7 a.m. It was the first time snowfall had surpassed the 12-inch mark at the airport since Feb. 10, 2010, on the tail end of the back-to-back storms that became known as "Snowmageddon."
With more snow falling as a second wave of cold air and moisture whipped through the region Thursday night, the storm was near the record snowfall for Feb. 13 of 15.5 inches, a mark set in 1899. The 19th-century storm ranked as the 10th-snowiest single day on record in Baltimore.
Snow totals Thursday morning ranged from 19 inches in Glyndon to 16 inches in Westminster, 15 inches in Columbia, 13.5 inches in Oella, a foot in Bel Air and 9.5 inches in West Baltimore.
But a warming trend could be on its way, with high temperatures flirting with 60 degrees in the 10-day forecast.
"We're anticipating another 2 to 3 inches of snow Saturday, and hopefully we'll get above freezing after that," said Ken Mallette, executive director of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.
When two men in their late 50s died after shoveling Thursday's heavy snow, Howard County officials urged residents to take regular breaks while shoveling. Officials did not disclose the men's identities. Another man in his 40s died outside his home within a three-hour window as the other men, but officials couldn't confirm that shoveling was a factor.
While health systems, including the Johns Hopkins Health System and the University of Maryland Medical System, closed clinics for the day, emergency rooms and inpatient care remained open.
Babies don't always come on their due dates, but Jewelle Johnson's daughter was determined to be born on hers even in the middle of a snowstorm.
Johnson, 19, texted her mother about midnight Wednesday saying that her contractions, which had started a little earlier, were becoming too much to bear. With the storm brewing outside, Natosha Thomas, 44, suggested that her daughter wait a little longer.
By 7 a.m. Thursday, Johnson said she couldn't. Thomas drove Johnson in her 1990 Oldsmobile at 20 mph from Brooklyn Park to Harbor Hospital. By midmorning, the pair were at the hospital awaiting the baby, whom Johnson planned to name Ahayla.
"This baby wasn't waiting," Thomas said.
The snowstorm prompted neighborly gestures and even good deeds from strangers.
Michael Scott, a patient service associate at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital, was on his way to work Thursday morning when he saw a man and woman treading through the snow at Loch Raven Boulevard and Woodbourne Avenue.
It turned out the pair were headed to get dialysis at Good Samaritan, and Scott picked them up to take them to their appointments.
In downtown Annapolis, Naval Academy midshipmen hit the streets to shovel snow. With classes canceled, some liked the idea of having something productive to do.
"Instead of sitting around working out or playing video games, we might as well help the community," said Midshipman Charles Alcasid, who was shoveling with classmates Paul Ahn and Nathan Ritter.
Midshipman Brent Aldridge of Roanoke, Va., thought shoveling was a nice way to give back to the community they call home for four years.
"This makes up for all the candy from football games," he said, referring to a local tradition of fans pelting the Brigade of Midshipmen with candy as they march to football games.
Businesses saw opportunities.
Dave Stahl, owner of Pete's Grille in Better Waverly, had stopped to pick up a few snowbound employees on his way from his Timonium home to the restaurant at 4 a.m. when the idea occurred to him to pick up some customers, too.
Stahl posted an offer on the restaurant's Facebook page to pick up customers in his Subaru Outback and wound up taxiing a few dozen people, most in groups of two or three. He offered rides to those living within about eight blocks of the restaurant.
"We were really busy today," he said. "Our phone must have rung 100 times in the first hour, with people just checking to see if we were open."
Heavy Seas Alehouse in Little Italy offered customers a free beer from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. And the weather didn't close Jimmy's Famous Seafood in Fells Point, which wrote on Twitter: "We haven't closed in 40 years — you really think this snow is going to slow us down?"
"If you're a bar in the city — Fed Hill, Canton, Fells Point — and you're not open on a snow day, you're making a big mistake," said Matt Akman, a local attorney who drove to Canton from Federal Hill to have brunch with friends at Mama's on the Halfshell.
Of course, rock salt, ice melt, shovels and sleds were in high demand.
At Ferguson Hardware in Catonsville, Ron Young said he sold his last bag of ice melt just before 10 a.m. Wednesday. The weather has helped his business, but a shortage of product then held it back.
"It's good, but we wish we had more inventory," Young said.
The Ace Hardware store on Light Street in Federal Hill ran out of ice melt Wednesday night yet had lots of foot traffic Thursday. It was one of the few businesses open in the neighborhood.
Employees made a special trip to a supplier in White Marsh for more ice melt, buying a ton of salt and splitting it into 10-pound bags. By 10 a.m. Thursday, only several dozen bags remained, though the store limited them to two per customer.
"This is what's left," Dave Evans said, pointing to the half-empty shelves. "We got a ton of salt, and it's all gone."
After lows in the teens through the weekend, temperatures could reach the 40s by Tuesday and the 50s, possibly close to 60 degrees, later in the week.
Until then, opportunities for sledding and snowballs were expected to last. A system bringing an inch or two of snow was forecast to pass through the region late Friday night into Saturday morning.
Five-year-old Avery Rothschild and Madeline Kopecky, 7, were among many children enjoying the snow in Riverside Park in South Baltimore on Thursday morning — but the children weren't the only ones having fun.
"Look out," yelled Steve Kopecky before lobbing a snowball at his daughter and her playmate.
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Carrie Wells, Amanda Yeager, Andrea K. Walker, Lauren Loricchio, Jessica Anderson, Julie Scharper, Richard Gorelick, Kevin Rector, Pamela Wood and Meredith Cohn contributed to this article.