Snow causes collisions, jams

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The region's first meaningful snow of the season barreled through the Baltimore area yesterday, causing scores of fender benders on slippery roadways, snarling traffic for hours on some interstates and forcing schools in the region to postpone or cancel after-school and night activities.

As of last night, no public schools in surrounding counties had announced closures for today. Anne Arundel County's public schools, however, announced that they would open two hours late today and canceled morning kindergarten, pre-kindergarten and early-childhood intervention classes.

Although the amount of snow wasn't significant -- 1 to 3 inches fell in the region -- its delivery packed swirling winds that at times caused poor visibility.

"I don't think the amount of snow matters that much. If you get a little, it can make driving treacherous," said John M. Scholz, spokesman for the Anne Arundel fire department.

Forecasters predicted higher temperatures today, with highs in the mid-30s, and the possibility of flurries. Temperatures are expected to return to the 20s tomorrow and Saturday, with the threat of more snow this weekend.

Yesterday's snowfall began about 10 a.m. and quickly covered roads. Drivers witnessed cars spinning out of control, sliding off roads and colliding with other vehicles.

Shortly after the snow started falling in Howard County, police received a flood of calls reporting car accidents. At one point, the department was responding to 23 accidents.

A pair of jackknifed tractor-trailers on northbound Interstate 95, near Interstate 895 in Baltimore County, halted traffic for more than an hour and caused snarls that reached into Howard County, state police said. The scene was cleared about 2 p.m.

Authorities in Anne Arundel faced similar traffic woes, including a four-car collision on U.S. 50 near Bay Dale Drive. One person from that accident was taken to a hospital for evaluation.

But it wasn't all bad news yesterday.

Unexpected snow meant surprise profits at Stevens Hardware in Annapolis, where a steady stream of customers stocked up on snow shovels, salt and the occasional sled.

"Who would have thought we'd get this after last week, when it was about 65 degrees?" said assistant manager Brad Stevens.

Across the street, a group of children tossed snowballs at one another and squealed as they slipped on the sidewalks.

In Baltimore, the snowfall also gave blue salt a chance to make its long-awaited debut. The city had stockpiled the colored salt to see whether it would convince angry residents that plows had been down their streets.

The transportation crews scrambled to get 120 snow plows on the city's streets by midday, enlisting trash-truck drivers, park groundskeepers and other laborers with commercial drivers licenses.

The city was planning to keep its 120 plows on the road until midnight and reduce the number of workers overnight, said Kathy Chopper, spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation.

The crews are looking ahead to predictions of more snow this weekend.

"This is a warm-up," Chopper said.

Meteorologists call weather systems like yesterday's "Alberta clippers."

Usually gathering over the Canadian province of Alberta, such systems travel at a furious pace, driven by arctic winds. Yesterday's system crossed the Canadian border, traveled through Minnesota and the Great Lakes, and arrived in Baltimore in about a day. Last night, it was passing into the Atlantic Ocean.

Before yesterday's snowfall, the Baltimore region had received 0.1 inch, which fell Sunday -- significantly lower than the average accumulation by this time of the year. But a snowless beginning doesn't necessarily mean heaps at the end.

"It's not like the atmosphere is going to pay us back for having nice weather," said Jeff Warner, a meteorologist at Penn State. "It doesn't work like that."

Sun staff writers Hanah Cho, Liz F. Kay, Sheridan Lyons, Molly Knight, Sarah Schaffer, Gus G. Sentementes, Laura Barnhardt, Athima Chansanchai, Frank D. Roylance and Laura Vozzella contributed to this article.

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