Between the sunshine and warm temperatures that have graced the region this week and the official advent of spring on Friday, people in Carroll County are perhaps justified in singing a not so fond farewell to a particularly icy winter.
But March 16 through 20 is also Maryland Severe Storms Awareness Week. While its not their desire to rain on anyone's parade, officials in Maryland and Carroll County safety agencies are taking the opportunity to remind people that spring can bring its own weather hazards: floods, thunder storms, hail and sometimes tornadoes.
Tuesday's warm temperatures notwithstanding, according to forecasters, this week also holds the possibility of more wintry weather in the form of one more snowy trick. The National Weather Service says rain and snow are likely Thursday night into Friday in Westminster.
"I think people thinking, 'Happy days are here again, we don't have to worry about weather," said Roberta Windham, Carroll County administrator. "But people forget that ... Even though winter is over, there are other storms that can negatively impact one's life. We have flood potential in the spring, thunderstorms and severe weather in the summer and the ever present threat of hurricane season."
Historically, Carroll County sees most of its more violent thunderstorms — those with damaging winds and hail —beginning in May and into the summer, according to Keith Krichinsky, executive director of the Foot's Forecast group. He said May is also when tornadoes sometimes make an appearance, but that's not to say April couldn't bring a surprise storm.
"We can definitely see some strong storms in April, there is no doubt in my mind about that," Krichinsky said. "You know that phrase, 'April showers bring May flowers'? Some of those storms are pretty violent."
With spring set to arrive, according to the National Weather Service, at 6:45 p.m. (daylight time) on Friday, the main weather concern in the season is flooding, according to Doug Brown, Carroll County emergency management coordinator.
"The snow has melted and made the ground very saturated," he said. "The creeks are already running full and additional rain on top of that is certainly a ripe opportunity for some flash floods."
Low lying roads in Carroll, such as Main Street in Union Bridge, Md. 77 in Detour and any of the bridge areas along the Carroll/Frederick County line are particularly prone to flooding, according to Brown. While county staff will attempt to monitor and block off roads that flood, he said it's important for drivers to exercise good judgment by never driving into standing water of unknown depth. It doesn't take a large amount of water to float a vehicle's tires off the road.
Saturated soil, rain and high winds can also combine to cause another hazard in the form of falling trees, according to Brown, a point driven home by the death Sunday, March 15, of a Pennsylvania man who had been hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Similar hazards from falling trees exist with the heavy winds that may accompany severe thunderstorms, generally later in the spring and summer, with the added threat of lightening strikes, according to Brown. People should be aware, he said, that if they can hear thunder they are close enough to be struck by lightening.
"We do all we can to prepare folks so they get themselves out of harm's way," Brown said. "Know the signs. If you hear thunder, see lightening, get in inside."
Most importantly, Brown said, be aware of your surroundings and have a back up plan in case the weather turns sour, and pay attention to forecasts and storm warnings.
"If you are outside at an event .... Think ahead of time, 'If a storm rolls up on me, what is my plan? Where am I going to go, am I taking my family. Is it our car? Is it inside to a shelter?'" he said. "Stay tuned. Have a radio with you or your phone. Have some way to get the forecast and know what's going on in your area."
The idea behind highlighting possible dangers from spring weather is not to cause panic or anxiety, according to Windham, but simply to prepare people to think ahead of time about the possibility of changing weather. She said many of the potential problems caused by severe weather can be avoided by doing simple things, such as making sure you have working flashlights and a backup supply of water if a power outage hits.
As for the likelihood of severe weather this spring, the National Weather Service is giving the even odds to all outcomes — stormier, less stormy or about average — during the next three months, according to National Weather Service Meteorologist Dan Hofmann. He said there is a weak El Niño this year — a current of warm water in the Pacific Ocean —— that is not powerful enough, or absent enough, to allow specific climactic predictions to be made.
There is one positive data point however, which is that there have been no tornadoes in the U.S. in 2015 thus far, according to Hofmann, making the first quarter an unusually quiescent one in terms of extreme weather.
"The last time that happened was 1969, and it was also an El Niño year," He said.
The upshot, according to Hofmann, is that there is no guarantee 2015 will continue to be anything like 1969.
"All it takes is that one storm that comes through your neighborhood and messes up everything, so you need to be prepared," he said.
And then there is the reality that winter may just refuse to die this year. Hofmann said there is a low pressure system expected to move through the region Thursday evening and into Friday morning, possibly bringing more snow.
Carroll County Breaking News
"There could be some wet snow with that [low pressure system], especially as you get up into Carroll County ... It will change to rain or stop as the sun comes up," Hofmann said. "The ground is getting warm, the sun angle is getting higher and the later you get in March the more difficult it becomes to accumulate snow. But if it falls at night, you can still get a good accumulation, especially if it comes down hard."
Foot's Forecast has also been tracking the low pressure system, but are not yet ready to make a call on how it will develop, according to Krichinsky.
Even if Carroll dodges this weekend's icy bullet, Krichinsky said it's not really safe to completely rule out snow showers as late as April, as they do happen, even if they are short lived. Weather is difficult to predict, even under ideal conditions.
"Mother nature loves playing tricks on us. Just when we thinks it's getting warm she likes throwing a curve at us," he said. "She likes to let us know who is in charge."
Reach staff writer Jon Kelvey at 410-857-3317 or email@example.com.
Extreme Weather Preparation Resources
More information on how to prepare for extreme spring and summer weather can be found at the Carroll County Emergency Management web page at ccgovernment.carr.org/ccg/emermang/ and Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Carroll-County-Emergency-Management/108025219233402, as well as the National Weather Service Weather Ready web page at http://www.weather.gov/baltimore/weatherready