Howard County's first major snowfall of the year, which may bring more than a foot of snow, is expected to begin tonight, according to the National Weather Service.
Current predictions anticipate 3 to 7 inches of snow Monday evening, with an additional 3 to 5 inches expected Tuesday. A winter storm warning is currently in effect until 2 p.m. Tuesday.
At 3 p.m. Monday, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman announced that the county will follow its snow emergency plan, which prohibits parking on designated snow emergency routes and requires vehicles on the road to have snow tires, chains or all weather tires. A snow emergency is determined in collaboration between the Maryland State Police and Maryland State Highway Administration.
All 50+ Centers in the county will close at 6 p.m. today, and all evening activities are canceled.
Howard County Bureau of Highways Chief Tom Meunier said county public works crews have already pre-treated about 200 miles of roadway with a liquid salt brine, and will lay its first layer of salt as snow begins to accumulate.
"We will also, later today, finish doing some pretreating on our subdivision streets using a light coat of salt, so that we have material down underneath the snow when it starts to accumulate on those roads," Meunier said Monday morning. "We anticipate that we won't get back to those roads probably until sometime Tuesday or shortly after the snow stops falling."
Due to lack of snow this season, Meunier said the county has between 25,000 to 28,000 tons of salt ready for use. He encourages residents to stay off the roads, if possible.
Emergency Management Director Ryan Miller said the impending weather – named Winter Storm Stella – will also give the county an opportunity to use its new snowplow tracking system, which had its beta launch in December. Users can track snowplows in their area using the $44,000 automatic vehicle locator software that was installed on 152 Bureau of Highway vehicles belonging to the Department of Public Works, including 135 pieces of snow removal equipment.
"It's fully activated and it's ready to go," Miller said. "We're kind of excited to see what the results produce."
The software uses a countywide map to show residents four different time frames of snow removal based on color-coded roadways, watching treatment within the last four hours, four to eight hours, eight and 12 hours and more than 12 hours. Weather alerts and real-time traffic information will also be available.
Enhanced photos of local areas will be uploaded to see each snowplow's progress, using 25 "plug and play" AVLs that are available for contractor vehicles. While no adjustments have been made to the software, Miller said he anticipates feedback from the community.
"We're still trying to work through it," he said. "We haven't really had a lot of opportunities to run it. I would think we probably would get some feedback after this one."
In preparation for the snow, Miller said residents should try to keep fire hydrants clear for fire and rescue and check on neighbors who may need assistance. For additional tips, go to the ReadyHoCo page on the county's website at howardcountymd.gov.