Blizzard snows cause difficulties for mail delivery

Postal service lore says that mail carriers cannot be slowed by neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom. Whoever said that probably never tried delivering the mail during a record-breaking storm dropping more than 2 feet of snow.

The Baltimore area of the United States Postal Service canceled deliveries Saturday, Sunday and Monday because of unsafe driving and walking conditions for their workers thanks to Winter Storm Jonas. On Tuesday, letter carriers went back to work, bringing mail and packages to residents throughout the county.


One such carrier is Joseph "Francois" Wolbert, who resumed his routes in downtown Westminster on Tuesday.

Wolbert said the letter carriers weren't given a day off during the blizzard, but rather caught up on sorting work and other tasks in the office. He said he was thrilled to be out on his beat again.

"I enjoy being outside," Wolbert said. "I'm an unusual person. I like carrying the mail in the winter. I don't like doing it in the summer when it's hot. This is fine, though it can be a little hard on the legs."

The piles of snow around the county do lead to difficulties for the letter carriers. Wolbert generally moves his truck along the route as he delivers to different groups of houses. With side-street parking either covered in snow or blocked by snow removal vehicles, he was forced instead to park at one end of the street and walk the entire route by foot.

Wolbert said his city route in snowy weather is slightly easier on him than the routes some other carriers who have to take the mail to rural or undeveloped parts of the county. His mail truck was traded today to a rural driver who needed it, placing him in a U-Haul for the day. Wolbert said rural drivers will do their best to get all the mail out on time, but it can be difficult or dangerous to reach some houses this soon after a storm.

As he made his way delivering packages and picking up outgoing letters, Wolbert came across unshoveled sidewalks, forcing him into the travel lanes in the road. At other houses, he had to trudge through feet of snow in order to deliver the mail.

A letter carrier since 2007, Wolbert got his start delivering mail in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. He said the houses on his Carroll routes tend to be better at clearing their driveways and porches.

"Carroll gets shoveled pretty good here," Wolbert said. "That makes a gigantic difference, so you don't have to climb through or over the snow."

Throughout his career, Wolbert said, he's had a few spills and tumbles because of unshoveled areas or icy patches throughout the route.

As he walked from house to house, Wolbert greeted the regulars on the route. He said the interpersonal relationships that form make the job special for him.

"I had never had a job working outside before I started working for the postal service," Wolbert said. "Now I couldn't go back if I wanted to. I enjoy it too much."

Wolbert said the one nice thing about the severe weather is it tends to cut down on the amount of mail he has to deliver — likely the result of people sending fewer parcels and a slowdown of processing at the mail centers.

"It's all about getting people's mail out in a timely fashion," Wolbert said. "You can't do nothing crazy, and sometimes it's impossible, but you've got to do your best to try."



Md. officials confident of snowstorm disaster aid

HAGERSTOWN — Last weekend's brutal snowstorm pummeled Maryland from the Atlantic coast to the West Virginia border, costing government agencies much more than the minimum requirement for a federal disaster declaration, the state's emergency management chief said Tuesday.

The state aims to submit to federal authorities by mid-February an application seeking partial reimbursement for tens of millions of dollars in snow removal costs, damage to public property, and emergency measures to protect lives and property, Maryland Emergency Management Agency officials said.

The qualifying threshold for Maryland is $8.1 million under Federal Emergency Management Agency rules, "and we've met that without any question," MEMA Executive Director Russell Strickland said.

"I think with the basic numbers that we've run, when you look at that in comparison to previous storms, we'll easily make our threshold and overall should be in pretty good shape," Strickland said in a telephone interview.

The storm dumped up to 38.5 inches of snow in some areas, caused flooding and fishing-pier damage in Ocean City, and partially collapsed a school roof in Baltimore County.

Strickland said the state will seek to qualify for public assistance from FEMA, which generally reimburses state and local governments for 75 percent of their qualified costs. He said private business will likely be able to obtain Small Business Administration disaster loans. The SBA disaster program is separate from FEMA.

Maryland last received federal major disaster assistance for a snowstorm that struck just before Valentine's Day 2014. Carroll, Howard and Baltimore counties received $8.7 million in public assistance, according to FEMA's website.

Other snowy storms that qualified for federal disaster aid in Maryland include Hurricane Sandy in 2012, for a total of $34.5 million in public and individual assistance; a pair of snowstorms in February 2010, for $59.4 million in public assistance; and a snowstorm in December 2009, for $24.6 million in public assistance.

— David Dishneau, Associated Press