A snow storm threatening to become Maryland's worst paralyzed the state with a one-two punch of fast-falling snow and blustery winds that choked roads, grounded Baltimore-Washington International Airport and created waist-high snow drifts that made finding your car -- let alone driving it -- nearly impossible.

With an accumulation of two feet of snow possible, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. declared a state of emergency, sending the National Guard into the streets aboard all-terrain Humvees to transport paramedics to accident scenes, doctors and nurses to hospitals, and dialysis patients to their appointments, said Maryland Emergency Management Agency spokesman Quentin Banks.

Hours after declaring a state of emergency, the governor escalated the state's snow response and ordered all nonemergency vehicles off roads owned or maintained by the state until 4 a.m., on penalty of a $1,000 fine. Delaware officials made the same order earlier in the day.

The last time a governor declared a state of emergency was during the blizzard of 1996, which hammered states as far south as Kentucky; moved north to Philadelphia, Newark and New York; and dumped 22.5 inches of snow in Baltimore, according to the National Weather Service.

"We're already surpassing that," said Andy Woodcock, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., which said the snow was expected to taper off later today.

"I've been here over 35 years, and I've never seen snow like this," said Maj. Gen. Bruce Tuxill of the Maryland National Guard.

Around the region

The deep, drifting snow turned the state into a surreal winter wonderland. Under the falling flakes, mechanic Alan Ballek zoomed around on his snowmobile in Baltimore County.

Alfred and Sylvie Nkere made their way to St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church in downtown Baltimore to baptize their 2-month-old daughter Amini.

And triathlete Judy Carbary and her husband, Jim, went cross-country skiing in their Columbia neighborhood.

Meanwhile, 2,100 state workers in snow plows struggled to clear roads of the rapid snowfall.

"We are fighting this storm from the mountains of Garrett County to Ocean City and from south to north," said State Highway Administration spokeswoman Lora Rakowski. "Our crews are energetic, but when they do a route, as soon as they're done, it's snow-covered."

The storm was spawned by the collision of a vigorous upper-air disturbance and a band of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico with an entrenched pocket of cold air over Maryland and Virginia.

The atmosphere was volatile enough to produce lightning and thunder at times, an unusual condition associated with extremely heavy snowfall, said Calvin Meadows, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.

The storm dumped up to 1 1/2 inches of snow per hour in Central Maryland, and from 1 to 2 feet of powdery snow were expected throughout the region, with isolated patches as much as 3 feet deep on the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Parts of southern Virginia reported sleet and freezing rain with the snow.

By evening, the snow amounts included 20 1/2 inches in Owings Mills; 20 inches in parts of Anne Arundel County; 19 inches in areas of Carroll County; 18.3 inches in Columbia; 17 inches in Catonsville and sections of Howard County; 16 inches in Parkville, Annapolis and Baltimore; and 13 inches at BWI.

On the Eastern Shore, the storm brought everything from monstrous snowfall totals in the northern counties to a nasty mixture of snow, ice and rain along the coast in Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset.

Ocean City officials said that even with a hefty 4- to 6-inch snow, the weather wound up taking on the familiar characteristics of a wintertime nor'easter, prompting flood warnings as high tides pushed water onto low-lying streets, especially in the old downtown on the southern end of the resort.

In Talbot, Caroline, Queen Anne's and Kent counties, steady snow made shoveling futile yesterday as cleared sidewalks and driveways were quickly covered again. Road crews worked nonstop, but even passable main highways such as U.S. 50 were covered with several inches of snow throughout the day.

By 3 p.m. in Baltimore, the Office of Transportation declared a Phase II snow emergency. Cars obstructing snow emergency routes will be towed elsewhere in the neighborhood, said department spokeswoman Adrienne D. Barnes.

On the road

Not everyone heeded the advice from government officials to stay off the roads.

Mike Muse of Catonsville packed up his Ford F-350 extended-cab pickup truck with his three children and three of their friends and drove into Roland Park to the fabled "suicide hill," which drops precipitously from the Baltimore Country Club toward Falls Road.

"Do you know of a better hill? Neither do I," Muse said.

Nearby, Sam Stevenson of North Baltimore was slogging through the snow on a four-mile jog.

"I figured I'd better get out before it snowed another foot," he said.

Neither wind nor cold nor blinding snow could keep Baltimoreans from their appointed rounds of drinks. Bars along O'Donnell Square were crowded yesterday afternoon with patrons hunkered down to stay.

With icicles encrusting his beard, Marc Kantrowitz, 39, stumbled into Claddagh's Irish Pub in Canton yesterday afternoon after having made the mile-and-a-half walk from Federal Hill in about an hour and 10 minutes.

"I didn't think anything of it until I got to Fells Point," he said. "That's when I thought, 'This is insane,' but then I was at the point of no return."

He said he made it only by listening to Bob Marley as he walked and thinking of a beach in Jamaica.

"Getting back is what worries me," he said. "I'll just have a few beers and go home. I won't go crazy."

At Bay Ridge Wine and Spirits, a warehouse-size liquor store near Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis, three customers were waiting at the door when the owner, Chuck Ferrar, opened up at 9 a.m. yesterday. And that was just the start of an unusually busy Sunday morning that saw customers walking out with trunk-loads of beer, wine and liquor.

"It's not the half-pint drink," he says. "These people are buying and loading up. I think they feel like they're going to be in for a day or two."

In the Freeland area of northern Baltimore County, the SUVs refueling at Prettyboy Market were joined by Alan Ballek, who pulled up to pump No. 4 -- on his snowmobile. The 34-year-old mechanic does a lot of his snowmobiling while vacationing in upstate New York or in Quebec, but yesterday, he and his friends planned to ride the fields near home.

Annapolis resident Dimitri Fotos arrived at the Hard Bean Coffee and Booksellers on the City Dock on a wooden sled pulled by his four Siberian huskies -- Shadow, Bandit, Natasha and Sheena.

He quickly attracted a crowd of passers-by, who shot photos of him with the dogs. Shop owner Gary Amoth came out with coffee for Fotos and cranberry scones for the Huskies.

Judy Carbary stepped out her door and went cross-country skiing in her Columbia neighborhood with her husband, Jim. The 16-year triathlete likes to stay active.

"It was great, fresh snow," she said. "If you have tracks you can glide really well." The pair skied across five miles of streets.

But where there was joy, there was also pain.

Sharon Espitzo-Mayer, 36, fought a losing battle with the snow, shoveling her driveway while inside, her husband rested with a cast on his left foot.

"I'm encouraging her to stop," Mayer said. "It's a back-breaking chore, and I'd rather her not do it. I think she'll be sore tomorrow, and I'll be assigned to massage duty." (Mayer said he hired a neighborhood teen-ager to shovel today, hoping that would bring his wife back inside.)

Groundings, closings

The storm grounded planes at BWI, burying runways under mounds of snow and putting a freeze on the vacation and relocation plans of some travelers.

At the Southwest Airlines terminal, the storm stranded Yasheka Johnson, her three children and 14 suitcases of luggage on the first leg of a cross-country move to Riverside, Calif.

"We should have moved yesterday," said Johnson, 23, of Laurel. "My mother told me this is just as bad as the [Presidents Day Storm] of 1979, the year I was born. You just can't see anything. Nothing but snow."

Union Memorial Hospital and Greater Baltimore Medical Center canceled elective surgeries today.

The Nkeres were slowed by the snow but undaunted yesterday morning at the baptism of their daughter, Amini, whose Swahili name means "Trust." But at many other churches in the area, services were canceled.

"My husband went outside and made a road for us," said Sylvie Nkere, a city schools algebra teacher who was born and raised in France but, like her husband, is Zairean. The drive in the couple's GMC Safari, also with daughter Nahema, 3, and son Aganze, 19 months, took half an hour going, and an hour getting back, she said.

The storm provided additional stress for about 1,100 participants of a downtown conference who are well accustomed to dealing with difficult situations.

Who better to cope with a heavy snowstorm than the psychologists, firefighters and other emergency-management personnel at the 7th World Congress on Stress, Trauma and Coping?

"It's the old serenity prayer: Accept the things you can't change," said Vaughn Donaldson, district chief with the fire department of Midland, Texas.

Sun staff writers David Michael Ettlin, Jay Apperson, Stephen Kiehl, Jason Song, Julie Bykowicz, Joe Nawrozki, Scott Calvert, Stephanie Hanes, Jeff Barker, Chris Guy, Ariel Sabar and Jamie Stiehm contributed to this article.

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