Harford County is bracing for what forecasters say will be the first significant snowfall of what otherwise had been a nearly snow-free winter.
Harford County Public Schools led the way with its cancellation of all after school activities Monday, including athletic events and the evening meeting of the Harford County Board of Education, according to an email from Jillian Lader, manager of the school system's communications.
Up to 8 inches of snow are forecast to fall Monday evening and overnight in the immediate Baltimore area, and northern Baltimore County could see as much as a foot, according to the National Weather Service.
The snow system is moving up the East Coast from the southwest, the weather service said. Warmer atmospheric air above the Interstate 95 corridor in Southern Maryland could lead to some rain and sleet mixed in, lowering snowfall totals there slightly but causing chaotic road conditions nonetheless, forecasters warned.
The National Weather Service has been tracking the storm since last week, and preparations in Harford County were evident over the weekend at places like the Festival at Bel Air shopping center where heavy front-end loaders were lined up in the parking lot in anticipation of the approaching snow.
Weather conditions are expected to vary depending on the section of Harford County. County Executive Barry Glassman said the I-95 corridor should be on a "rain/snow mix line," based on a conference call with the National Weather Service late Monday morning.
"The very best scenario would be, we're still going to get 6 to 8 inches, then it could go up as high as 12," Glassman said.
State Highway Administration crews assigned to the Churchville Shop began pre-treating the county's numbered highways with salt brine solution Sunday, according to agency spokesperson Charlie Gischlar.
He said SHA workers and contractors are either resting or taking care of personal business, but they are scheduled to report for work at 4 p.m. today to prepare for plowing the highways before the snow starts around 7:30 or 8 p.m.
"That way, we can be out there loaded up and ready to go," Gischlar said.
Gischlar warned the storm is expected to be "like a blizzard" with heavy, wet snow and high winds.
He said people should not try to move fallen tree limbs, especially if power lines are tangled around them.
"If you come to a traffic signal that is out, it's important that everybody has to treat that like a four-way stop," he said.
That means even traffic on a main highway, such as Route 24, must stop and yield to other motorists, he noted.
Gischlar also warned that motorists should be aware that plow operators are "going to be making great, great progress" clearing snow once the storm ends, but not all components of the highway, such as on-ramps, acceleration lanes or turn lanes, will be clear to their full width or length.
Visit http://www.md511.org to get real-time updates on travel conditions.
Harford County public works crews are scheduled to pre-treat roads after the Monday evening rush hour ends, according to Glassman.
"I'm still hoping for [more] rain than snow, but it doesn't look like we're going to dodge it completely," he said.
The snow that is expected to fall is supposed to be heavy, so "we are going to have to do a lot of plowing," Glassman said.
Residents can visit the county website, http://www.harfordcountymd.gov, or the Harford County Government page on Facebook for updates.
The county executive encouraged people to park in their driveways or along the even-numbered sides of cul-de-sacs and roads to give plows enough room.
Anybody who uses a generator in case of a power outage should keep the unit outside and away from the dwelling, Glassman noted.
People should take breaks and take their time as they shovel heavy snow, he said.
Glassman anticipates an "enhanced" activation for the county's emergency operations center around 7 p.m., meaning law enforcement, fire and EMS, emergency services and public works personnel should be on hand.
"We're not doing a full activation unless the storm gets worse," he said.
Employees of all county agencies would be alerted if a full activation is needed.
The county, which has avoided a major snow storm until now, has about 20,000 tons of road salt on hand and about $1.6 million available out of $2.3 million budgeted to handle snow this year.
"We're in real good shape," Glassman said. "We're just going to have to get through, I would say, the next 24 hours."
Ready and waiting
In anticipation of the pending snow, three large bulldozers and one much smaller sat in a line Saturday in the parking lot at the Festival at Bel Air shopping center.
"It takes as lot to clean those parking lots. It's a lot of parking lot," Mike Blum, whose company, MartinoBlum, has handled marketing for the shopping center for 27 years. "The company that cleans it, they put the bulldozers on the parking lot early."
"The idea is, let's support the merchants and get the snow off the parking lots as soon as possible," Blum said. "The only way to do that is to have the equipment there in advance. Then the only delay would be getting people there."
The bulldozers corral all the snow into the shopping center's stormwater management pond, he said.
One recent year when there was a lot of snow, likely last year after Winter Storm Jonas, he said, there was a "glacier" in the stormwater pond after all the lots were cleared. And it was still there in May.
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"If you think about it, a parking lot that size, and if there's 10 inches of snow and you push it into the pond, it's become a glacier," he said. "People don't realize how much snow that is."