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Foggy thaw brings brief lull before cold; Warm-up melts woes, but doesn't last long


Ice and snow gave way to rain and dense fog yesterday morning before offering the Baltimore area a warm respite from days of subfreezing temperatures.

It wasn't exactly balmy, but definitely a marked improvement over the snow and freezing rain that caused chain-reaction accidents and major road closures on Friday, and disrupted airline schedules.

State and city road crews who had worked around the clock to clear Maryland's roads went home for much-needed rest, and rising temperatures -- warming to a high of 44 degrees at 1 p.m. -- gave a boost to their efforts.

"I'd say it was hectic," said a weary Rick Beecher, who went home at 4 a.m. yesterday after 25 hours on a State Highway Administration salt truck battling the storm on Interstate 95. He caught six hours of sleep before returning to work at 4 p.m.

The concern then turned to temperatures dropping below freezing after sunset, and still-wet roads becoming glazed with ice. State police reported icy patches late last night on roads from Frederick County westward, but no problems on main routes in the metropolitan area.

"It's adrenalin, because you know you have to do it to keep the road safe," said Beecher, an SHA worker for seven years, of the long hours spent salting highways. When the warmer weather finally arrived, "all I could think of was going to sleep," he said.

On Friday, snow accumulated across the state -- close to 4 inches in some areas around Baltimore and up to 8 inches in Western Maryland -- before changing to freezing rain.

Most snow emergency plans were lifted early yesterday as a warm front passed over the state, but the resulting fog made navigating roads difficult. Flights at Baltimore-Washington International Airport were delayed until noon, when the dense fog finally lifted.

By afternoon, the SHA had scaled back to 250 the number of highway workers battling the elements. As many as 1,700 workers had taken on the storm.

"The main roads have been real good, and with no rush hour to deal with, it's helped us clean things up quickly," SHA spokesman David Buck said.

But the forecast of dropping temperatures last night and the possibility of icing highways again kept crews busy.

"Now we're going to hit the roads with more chemicals and salt," Buck said.

But innumerable side streets were likely to remain slippery -- depending more on gradual afternoon meltdowns and drying this week than the appearance of public works crews.

Like the state, city road crews began bracing themselves last night for another blast of temperatures in the low to mid-20s. A skeleton crew of workers was on standby at the Baltimore Department of Public Works storm center to dispatch workers to clear storm drains, salt roads and handle icy patches.

"We always watch the weather," said Kurt Kocher, a Baltimore public works spokesman. "And we always plan ahead."

Dewey Walston, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., said weather-rattled Baltimoreans can relax -- for now.

"Some of the smaller, secondary roads might have some icy spots, but all the major roads are already dry so they won't freeze over," Walston said.

Partly cloudy skies with highs of 25 to 31 degrees are expected today.

For the next week or so, Walston said, Baltimore can expect partly sunny skies with highs from the mid- to upper 30s and temperatures dipping as low as 20 at night -- except for a chance of rain or snow Tuesday.

"It's actually exactly what we've been having for the last week or so: cold with a little bit of rain or snow," Walston said. "The weather's been fairly consistent. In fact, it's typical winter weather."

Pub Date: 1/10/99

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