A blizzard was expected to dump a couple of feet of snow across New England through midday today, and while Baltimore was largely spared, the storm delivered some wintry precipitation and headaches for travelers.
At Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, dozens of flights to and from the Northeast were canceled, leaving some travelers scrambling to brave snowy roads in rental cars. Others landed there Friday from points north, escaping ahead of the expected 2 feet of snow, only to find limited options for getting anywhere else.
Part of the storm dropped some light icy precipitation Friday morning, prompting Baltimore County officials to delay opening schools in the northern Hereford Zone. Otherwise, it was just a rainy day for the region, with a chance for a dusting of snow late, as neighbors to the northeast hunkered down for dangerous whiteout conditions.
The heavy snow expected in New England comes from one storm system bringing moisture from the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, converging with a system from the west, forecasters said. The combination of moisture and cold air is a "recipe" for snow, said Jared Klein, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Baltimore/Washington forecast office.
"It's all occurring too late for the moisture and the snow to reach our area," Klein said of the merging systems.
At BWI, the weather meant airlines canceled many flights to New York, Boston and Providence, R.I., and other headaches because planes at other airports were unable to leave.
Virginia Beach residents Valerie Oyer and her daughter, Emily, flew from Norfolk to BWI on Friday morning, headed for Buffalo and a 101st birthday party in New York's Finger Lakes region. But after sitting on the tarmac for an hour and a half, passengers were told the flight was being canceled because with all the grounded flights, there wasn't any room for their plane to land in Buffalo.
"They said, 'We're gonna get out early so we can get to Buffalo,'" Valerie Oyer said of the quick trip from Norfolk to Baltimore. But midday Friday, she was researching rental car options, with all flights back to Norfolk booked and no other means to get to New York. Forty-four departures and 35 arrivals from and to BWI had been canceled by early Friday evening, according to airline industry website FlightAware.com.
Others on Oyer's flight were doing the same. Buffalo-area residents Jim Kraebel and Mike Ruhland were eager to get up north to get some use out of their snowmobiles and make it to a winter picnic today with their snowmobile club.
For Emily Oyer, it was her second time being stranded at BWI — she was stuck there during the twin storms many dubbed "Snowmageddon" in 2010 while headed to London for a school band trip.
"We don't see a lot of snow in Virginia," she said.
Maine residents David and Arlene McLean were dismayed to find that at the same time they planned to go on their first cruise, a blizzard was expected to bury their home in 2 feet of snow. The couple left their Winslow, Maine, home in the charge of their college student son and headed to Baltimore from Manchester, N.H., Friday instead of on their originally scheduled flight out of Boston to Miami today.
They, too, were researching rental car options to get to Miami in time to ship out to the Bahamas, Jamaica and Grand Turk on Sunday.
"We've got time; we've just got to get down there," David McLean said.
Others held out hope that they could fly ahead of the storm. Long Island resident John Falson was on his way back from vacation in West Palm Beach and Marco Island, Fla., and as of about noon Friday, his flight from BWI to Islip, N.Y., was delayed but still on the schedule.
"If I get in, I can drive in the snow; I'm not worried about that," Falson said.
Accuweather.com predicted a 6 percent chance of light snow in the Baltimore area overnight. Accumulation predictions were fluctuating but stood at about an inch or less by daybreak today.
Strong gusts up to 44 mph were expected for Baltimore and the surrounding region through 6 a.m. today.
Baltimore health officials declared a "Code Blue" alert overnight Friday, freeing up additional resources for homeless people at shelters.
For New England, the storm prompted concerns of rescues on roads. The storm cut short the workweek for millions who feared being stranded as state officials ordered roads closed ahead of what forecasters said could be a record-setting snowfall.
The storm also posed a risk of flooding at high tide in areas still recovering from Hurricane Sandy last fall.
Authorities scrambled to prepare for the storm, which had resulted Friday in a massive traffic pile-up in southern Maine, caused nearly 40,000 power outages by 10 p.m. and prompted organizers of the nation's sledding championship in Maine to postpone a race scheduled for today, fearing too much snow for the competition
From New York to Maine, the storm began gently, dropping a light dusting of snow, but officials urged residents to stay home rather than risk getting stuck in deep drifts. Early Friday evening, officials warned that the storm was just ramping up to full strength, and that heavy snow and high winds would continue through midday today.
The governors of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Maine declared states of emergency and issued bans on driving.
"This is a very large and powerful storm; however, we are encouraged by the numbers of people who stayed home today," Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said.
The prospect of missing out on a major snowfall in the Baltimore area had some snow lovers disappointed. So far this winter, 4.6 inches of snow has fallen at BWI, compared with 1.8 inches in winter 2011-2012, 14.4 inches in winter 2010-2011, and a record-setting 77 inches in winter 2009-2010.
"It's wintertime and there should be snow," said Amanda Bates, a University of Maryland, Baltimore social work student who lives in the Cheswolde area of Northwest Baltimore. Bates moved from Baltimore to Florida a week before the February 2010 blizzard, recently moving back, and was disappointed at the thought of missing out again.