Retro Baltimore: When 4 inches of snow brought the city to a standstill

Baltimore snow day photos from Dec 14, 1951. Courtesy of the Baltimore Sun Archives of University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Baltimore snow day photos from Dec 14, 1951. Courtesy of the Baltimore Sun Archives of University of Maryland, Baltimore County. (Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore missed out on a snow event Tuesday, but that does not mean that a small amount of white precipitation can’t bring the region to its knees.

On Dec. 14, 1951, The Sun’s headline proclaimed, “Worst Jam in History of Baltimore.” The story that followed covered the storm in three words, “Baltimore stood still.”


We got 4 inches.

The snow surprised everyone.


“Thousands of shoppers had traveled to Howard and Lexington streets for Christmas shopping. By late afternoon, everyone, shoppers and workers alike, had the same idea: Go home. Police were quoted saying the simultaneous exodus created a fabled traffic jam,” said a Sun story.

It became a day of frustration — telephone exchanges were temporarily paralyzed — as workers and shoppers who would have normally returned home for dinner were still unaccounted for hours later.

Walking home was the way to go. A newspaper reporter said he laughed at stranded motorists as he stepped along Old York Road in Northeast Baltimore.

That 1951 snow amounted to all of 4 inches, but it confounded auto traffic and streetcars.


Those who lived through the winter of 1958 will not forget it. Baltimore got bushwhacked twice. There was a big storm in February and just as people were ready to welcome spring, on March 19, 1958, a wet flakes started falling. It turned out to be a moisture-filled heavy snow, and electric wires fell. Numerous transformers arced and shorted out.

The Sun reported that 100,000 people had no heat or light for about five days. Some folks roasted potatoes in fireplaces. The storm was especially tough on Bel Air and Frederick. The state’s newest interstate, I-83, was a mess.

The weight of the wet snow and a freeze that followed took down aluminum awnings. Neighborhoods such as Roland Park, Mount Washington, Parkville and Forest Park, where streets were lined with mature trees, needed cleaning up for weeks.

A Sunday storm on Jan. 30, 1966, shut the city and suburbs down for more than a week.

Baltimore had a break until Feb. 18-19, 1979. It, too, was a weekend storm. There was an unanticipated news angle to this one. Looters broke windows in neighborhood shops. Then-Baltimore Police Commissioner Donald Pomerleau mounted a horse and patrolled the streets as photographers chronicled the event.

A snow pounding arrived Friday, Feb. 18, 1983. It was predicted and downtown workers lost no time leaving early. It was a noisy storm accompanied by lightning and thunder.

The next day, Saturday, Mount Vernon residents broke out their skis.

One of Baltimore’s more curious customs is the use of porch and deck chairs to safeguard a precious, shoveled parking space. The Jan. 7, 1996, storm caused city neighborhoods to resemble outdoor furniture showrooms.

The aftereffects of this storm, which arrived fairly early in the winter, hung around for days.

The epic February 2010 storms came less than a week apart. They were dubbed Snowmageddon. The first began Friday, followed by a second pounding on the following Wednesday. It was March before their 44 total inches had melted.

“Among the stranger sights at the height of our snowstorm’s second act might have been the couple — dressed in shorts and T-shirts — walking blissfully along Pratt Street. Love, or an abundance of spirits, apparently conquers all, including the elements, “ said a Sun story recalling the event. “They were hand in hand.”

The story said one of the most blatantly illegal things police observed was a car speeding the wrong way on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which was deserted, snow-blinded and ordered closed by the mayor.

“You could get arrested for driving but not for jaywalking,” The Sun’s story said. “A couple got engaged, chilled Champagne in a snowbank and drank it on the street. A man pulled a plastic sleigh filled with open Budweisers down the middle of Light Street in Federal Hill.”

Former Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III drove around the city and said to his officers, “The laws do not ease as snow accumulates, but the practicality of enforcing them diminishes.”

The mayor banned cars from streets as the Wednesday storm became treacherous.

The police commissioner gave me an example of an excuse he heard from a driver who started his explanation for an illegal act with, “I have an emergency.”

And what was the man’s “emergency?”

“I have to pick up my friend at a bar,” The Sun reported.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun