Harford County dairy farmer Chris Dixon won't stop his milking operations, even if 18 to 24 inches of snow, as predicted, hits the Baltimore region this weekend.
But he may be an exception, as most other Harford residents will be hunkered down in the midst of what forecasters expect to be a weather event of historic proportions, with high winds and whiteout conditions accompanying the heavy snowfall expected to start late Friday afternoon or early evening and go on through Saturday.
While many county residents rushed around Thursday buying bread, milk, toilet paper and other snowstorm staples, clearing out inventories of shovels and salt from local hardware and home supply outlets, or tuning up their snowblowers and small plows, life went on for Dixon and other farmers with livestock to care for.
Dixon, who operates Quietness Farm in White Hall in northern Harford County, said the only difference this weekend will be farm workers will have to push the snow out of their way to get back and forth, and heavy snow makes it more difficult for drivers of the big milk hauling trucks to get out to the farms.
"Other than that, it's the same old thing," he said.
As of Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service was predicting that conditions would deteriorate Friday night with heavy snow mixed with sleet and high winds. There is a 100 percent chance of snow Saturday, and a blizzard warning is in effect from 6 p.m. Friday through 6 a.m. Sunday.
Gov. Larry Hogan announced a state of emergency throughout Maryland starting at 7 a.m. Friday.
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said he would also sign a declaration of emergency Friday morning.
"This will allow us to access National Guard resources, which we have begun to do," he said in a statement.
By 5 p.m. Thursday, Harford County Public Schools had canceled after school and evening activities, including after school day care, on Friday, as well as all weekend activities, to include any school-sponsored events or those held on school property through Sunday.
While the schools opened at the regular time on Friday, it was announced around 9 a.m. that classes would dismiss two hours early, as some updated models of the storm showed snow arriving in the Baltimore region between 3 and 5 p.m.
Many other Harford organizations also began announcing cancellations of events scheduled for Friday and the weekend. Harford Community College's Athletic Hall of Fame reception and ceremony that was to be held Saturday has been rescheduled to Feb. 5.
"We can expect periods of white-out conditions Friday night through Saturday and I would encourage our citizens to stay off the roads," Harford Emergency Manager Rick Ayers said. "If that is not possible, everyone should have a survival kit in their vehicle. This is the time to be proactive and plan ahead, make sure you have canned foods and water for several days, prescriptions refilled if necessary, have a battery operated radio and charge your cell phones."
The massive storm is expected to potentially cripple much of the region, with Pennsylvania and Virginia also declaring states of emergency.
"Conditions will be life threatening, with whiteout conditions," the Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Association wrote on social media, noting winds are set to be in the 25 to 35 mile-per-hour range with gusts up to 50 miles per hour.
"No one should be traveling on the roads during or after the event. Those who do are just bringing others into unnecessary danger," the Association wrote.
The two utilities that serve Harford County, BGE and Delmarva Power, said they are monitoring the weather closely.
Both urged customers to make preparations such as filling their vehicles' gas tanks before the storm hits, ensuring sensitive electronic items are either unplugged or are plugged into a surge protector in case of a power outage, and following manufacturers' instructions when using a generator.
BGE customers can report outages by calling 1-877-778-2222 or online at https://www.bge.com.
Delmarva Power customers in Cecil and Harford counties can call 1-800-898-8042 or visit http://www.delmarva.com. Both utilities also offer mobile apps for reporting outages and downed wires.
Ready for battle
Harford County and municipal officials began preparing their public works crews and vehicles Tuesday following the first reports of the impending winter storm.
Glassman planned to conduct a storm response run-through at the Department of Emergency Services building in Hickory on Friday morning, county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby said. He planned to meet with his emergency response team and staff in the building's Emergency Operations and 911 centers.
The Harford County Hotline 410-838-5800 will be open at 7 p.m. Friday for non-emergency calls and to answer any questions citizens may have, Mumby said.
Residents are also encouraged to make use of the You CLICK we FIX and Snow Plow Tracker apps available at the county website www.harfordcountymd.gov.
Bel Air Town Administrator Jesse Bane said town officials had been monitoring two weather prediction models, and neither showed a promising outcome.
"This [storm] has the potential to be a monster," he said.
"We are doing anything and everything we can think of which will help us do the best job possible for our citizens and businesses," Bel Air Public Works Director Steve Kline wrote in an email. "We have been through these storms before and have learned a lot that will help us be more efficient and effective this storm."
Kline said crews are preparing for 48 "straight hours of snow removal" through Sunday night.
He provided a series of tips in emails Tuesday and Thursday to encourage residents to help with snow removal efforts by parking in driveways instead of along the street to give snow plows room to maneuver, clearing snow from in front of curbs to avoid flooding caused by blocked storm drains, clearing deep snow from around fire hydrants and helping any elderly neighbors with shoveling snow.
Kline said portable basketball hoops also should be removed from the right-of-way in the street to clear the way for snow plows.
"Snow removal is definitely a community effort," Kline said.
Havre de Grace Public Works Director Tim Whittie said earlier in the week that preparations were already underway, and Mayor Bill Martin urged residents to help each other if necessary.
"Use this as another example of a time we can come together and show everybody the true character and caliber of who we are as a city," Martin said during Tuesday night's city council meeting, encouraging people to help neighbors shovel snow and avoid stealing others' parking spots.
"We are ready for a big fight," Aberdeen Public Works Director Kyle Torster said Thursday. The city equipment, he said, is "all checked out," plows are on the trucks and the city has enough salt to handle this specific storm, he said.
Aberdeen DPW workers will also be pre-treating roads, although he could not say yet exactly when.
"We are watching the weather for that," he said.
Maryland State Police, meanwhile, are discouraging commercial drivers from traveling. Those who are out on the road when the storm hits can wait it out in the weigh station lots, including the station at Routes 1 and 623 in Darlington.
Megan DePasquale, assistant store director for the Redner's Warehouse Markets store in Hickory, said Thursday the past few days had been "mayhem."
"They buy a little bit of everything," DePasquale said of customers.
She said Redner's had been keeping stores supplied, so the Hickory store had not run out of products as of Thursday afternoon. Redner's also operates a market in Joppatowne.
"Our warehouse has worked really hard to get us to where we need to be so we don't run out of product," she said.
DePasquale said the store has "plenty of rock salt, shovels, milk," and she had been working to bring in extra employees to help manage the rush of customers.
"I'm just trying to get some extra hands in so we can get folks in and out as quickly as possible for their convenience, so we can keep the lines down and the product on the shelf," she said.
Dixon, the White Hall dairy farmer, said there are few changes in the care for the cows or the milking operations in the cold and snow.
"You get cows in the barn, they make good heaters when they have body temperature of 101 degrees," he said.
Dixon said milk comes out of the cows at their body temperature, and then the tanks are "regulated at a certain temperature," so the milk will not freeze.
Dixon has about 200 head of dairy cattle, and he tries to ensure mothers are inside when they give birth to calves in below-freezing temperatures.
He said calves can be born in a pasture when the temperature is 40 degrees or higher, but they come out "soaking wet," so there is a high risk of them freezing in cold weather.
"Chances are you're going to lose the cow pretty quick," if it is born outside in the cold, he said.
"There's nothing like the first snow of the year – and a big one to top it all off!" Dixon exclaimed.