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Blizzard of '93 blasts Maryland Huge storm packs punch with snow, ice, high winds


A mammoth winter storm delivered a paralyzing punch of snow and ice to much of Maryland yesterday and soaked the Eastern Shore with heavy rain before moving on to the Northeast.

The Blizzard of '93 shut down shopping malls and airports, closed major highways and knocked out electricity to more than 100,000 homes as high winds played havoc with tree limbs and power lines.

But by late last night, no loss of life had been reported here from a storm described as "a killer" more than a day before it arrived. The storm's center passed over the Chesapeake Bay's eastern shore about 7 p.m.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer declared a state of emergency at 9 p.m. -- a legal formality allowing him to ask for help from the Maryland Army National Guard, which had small groups of soldiers on standby alert at armories across the state.

Col. Howard Freedlander, Guard spokesman, said eight soldiers from battalions based at the Hagerstown armory would be driving State Police troopers in Humvee utility vehicles to help search for the dozens of motorists believed to be stranded in hard-hit Frederick and Washington counties.

Blizzard conditions -- winds exceeding 35 mph blowing the snow and reducing visibility to less than 500 feet -- forced the closings of all U.S. and state highways west of Frederick at 8 p.m. Major roads also were shut down in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

"There are tractor trailers and cars sitting everywhere," said Sgt. Virginia Lewis. "There's drifting snow and bad winds. Apparently, it doesn't do any good to tell people to stay off the roads."

Traffic was light and accidents few throughout the storm -- thanks in part to the timing of the snow, which began falling late Friday, and a public that largely heeded repeated warnings to stay home this weekend because of the anticipated hazardous weather.

In Garrett County, always far-Western Maryland's winter wonderland, a sheriff's department spokesman said about 18 inches of snow had fallen by dinner time yesterday -- on top of a foot already on the ground. More was expected today.

Power knocked out

By late last night, more than 110,100 homes and businesses of Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.'s million-customer Central Maryland system had lost power, and wind gusts of 35 to 50 mph were

possible through early today.

"We've had conditions where we'll make a fix and, literally, another tree limb will come down and knock the same wire out of service," said company spokesman Karl Neddenien.

The storm system developed in the western Gulf of Mexico, moved across Georgia and turned north on an inland course rather than a feared Atlantic coastal route. The result was slightly warmer air, causing a temporary change from snow to sleet or rain from Baltimore eastward and slightly less accumulations.

With a coastal route, snow amounts might have been 8 to 10 inches higher, said National Weather Service forecaster Ken Shaver.

Not that there was a shortage of snow, with reported amounts in the Baltimore area by 10 p.m. ranging from 10.6 inches at the airport to 16.7 inches at Owings Mills -- where a thunderstorm burst added to the count, and sleet compressed it back to about 15 inches.

Carroll County had a foot or more of snow. Weather observers and monitors there and at Martin State Airport in Essex reported wind gusts reaching 70 mph.

Record low pressure

Barometric pressure dropped at 6:20 p.m. to 28.51 inches of mercury -- the lowest ever recorded in the Baltimore area and a measure of the storm's ferocity.

The storm all but halted Amtrak rail service west of Baltimore and delayed most trains along the Northeast Corridor by about two hours as maximum speeds were reduced from 100 mph to 65 mph because of high wind, said spokesman Cliff Black.

Greyhound halted bus service, and the airport shut down.

Adrienne Walker-Pittman, a BWI spokeswoman, said airlines decided unanimously to halt all flights, mainly because of high winds and snow falling so heavily on the runways that plows couldn't keep up with it.

The closure left thousands of passengers stranded and fighting for hotel rooms at nearby hotels. Buses from BWI to Annapolis and Washington were canceled. Taxi service was limited and hotel shuttle vans operated sporadically.

At noon, the Mass Transit Administration limited bus service in the Baltimore area to major routes, then halted it at 4 p.m. because of hazardous roads and low ridership, said spokesman Frank Starr, adding that the decision on Sunday operations would be made early today.

Metro and light-rail service were to close an hour early, at 11 p.m., and trains ran less frequently -- also because of the dearth of riders.

Events of all sorts were canceled, including today's annual St. Patrick's Parade. "The luck of the Irish was not with us," said parade chairman James C. Jones, noting that it was only the second cancellation in 39 years and hoping for better luck in 1994.

Catholics can skip Mass

For the first time in 30 years, Roman Catholics in Maryland, Delaware and Washington were told they could skip Mass today.

"Catholics are not obliged to attend Mass," said Rob Rehg, spokesman for the Baltimore Archdiocese, saying the decision was made by area archbishops.

Baltimore City's snow-removal forces went into full operation Friday night as the first flakes began to fall, with crews manning 160 salt-and-plow trucks and concentrating on major routes, at a cost estimated at $11,000 an hour.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he awoke early and started driving (( the streets at 6:30 a.m. to survey the snow removal and get a general sense of the city. Recalling the looting that erupted a decade ago during a crippling snowstorm, Mr. Schmoke said the Police Department was much better prepared now with storm-hardy vehicles.

No serious problems occurred, and the streets were mostly quiet.

On the Eastern Shore, a late-morning high tide combined with strong winds to flood bayside streets in downtown Ocean City. But by early afternoon, a heavy rainfall had subsided and temperatures rose to the mid-40s. At one point, sunshine broke through the clouds.

Flood and wind damage to buildings was said to be minimal. At the height of the morning tide, some waves touched the base of sand dunes at 65th Street, but no beach damage was apparent.

Initial fears of serious beach erosion from northeasterly winds turned to relief last night, when winds were coming from the southwest and the worst danger seemed to have passed. But emergency officials were awaiting the effects of a high tide near midnight to be sure.

Although most people in Ocean City stayed indoors, a parade of motorists drove to the inlet to watch the spectacle as wind-driven waves crashed into the seawall there, at times throwing spray more than 30 feet into the air.

Resort Mayor Roland E. "Fish" Powell said he never considered evacuating the town because he feared sending motorists inland where travel might be risky.

Evacuation in Delaware

In Dewey Beach, Del., where recent storms had destroyed much of the protective beach front, officials called for a voluntary evacuation.

In the Carroll town of Manchester, weather-watcher Herb Close Jr. -- who lives on the county's second-highest hill at 1,040 feet -- said he had measured 19 inches of snow by 9 p.m. and recorded wind gusts to 69 mph around 12:30 p.m.

"It's a winter hurricane," said Larry Myers, a Westminster weather watcher, who added that the snow blowing in his face felt like "somebody was shooting BBs at me." He measured 12 inches of snow and wind gusts up to 66 mph at his home on Route 97 just north of the Carroll County Regional Airport.

Mr. Myers said he didn't mind being stuck at home by the storm. "It's nice to see the world slow down for once," he said. But not everyone could stay home.

Getting married

Margaret Martin and Alfred O'Jeda, both from Manhattan, sat down to a big breakfast at noon at the still-open Chick & Ruth's Deli in Annapolis after driving through the snowstorm the night before to attend an evening wedding at the Governor Calvert House on State Circle.

"People who live 20 minutes away left at 10 this morning to make it," said Ms. Martin, whose cousin was getting married. "You can't miss a wedding."

The bridegroom, especially, shouldn't miss a wedding -- and in Howard County, Firefighter Jerry Abel made sure one didn't.

Jim Rice, of Ellicott City, called the Bethany fire station at 7 a.m. to ask if someone could take him to Sykesville for his wedding. He was to have been married in the Frederick County community of Jefferson, but no one could get there in the storm and the minister decided to stage the nuptials at his Sykesville home.

Firefighter Abel, who was just coming off the night shift, got him to the church on time -- but didn't stay for the ceremony. The

minister reportedly used his four-wheel-drive vehicle to shuttle the newlyweds to a nearby motel.

But a blizzard was part of the planning for Mount St. Mary's College graduates Bob Dean, Dave DiLuigi and John Fee, who left for Emmitsburg Friday night hoping the much-ballyhooed storm would arrive as promised.

"We knew it was coming," admitted Mr. Fee, a sales

representative from Cherry Hill, N.J. "That was the plan. We knew we'd get trapped here. I won't be back to work until Monday afternoon."

At a Kmart in Frederick, sporting goods manager Herb Miller said he figured people would hold off on their shopping and browsing. But a few proved him wrong.

Before the store closed yesterday afternoon, he said, "I had some guy buy $100 worth of fishing equipment, like today is really a good day to go fishing. You think they'd be asking for snow shovels or stuff like that, but they weren't."

In truth, few snow shovels were to be had. Most stores had either sold out or changed the stock to spring-time goods. An employee at the Hechinger hardware store in Reisterstown said 100 hastily restocked shovels "were gone in an hour."

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