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Fast-moving storm leaves blanket of snow

The Baltimore Sun

A fast-moving storm dropped snow on Maryland yesterday, snarling roads, slowing commutes, closing schools and creating blizzard-like conditions in some areas.

The falling snow combined with midday traffic to make commutes horrendous and complicate efforts of highway crews clearing roads in some areas.

"Traffic is slowing us down. The heavy snow came all at once," said Bill Malone, chief of Howard County's Bureau of Highways.

Flights at BWI Marshall Airport were delayed up to an hour so planes could be cleared of ice.

At least 5 inches of snow fell in Columbia and parts of Carroll County, and at least 4 inches fell at Fort Meade, Owings Mills and Darlington, the National Weather Service reported. Baltimore received more than 3 inches.

The storm arrived courtesy of a moist band of low pressure that moved quickly up the Atlantic Coast and clashed with a colder high-pressure system from northern New England, Marisa Ferger, a meteorologist with the Penn State Weather Group, said yesterday.

Snow fell heavily in many areas despite temperatures that hovered a few degrees above freezing. That is not uncommon: A layer of warmer surface temperatures will sometimes be too thin to give snow falling from higher and colder clouds a chance to melt, Ferger said.

By the weekend, things could get worse, she said.

A blast of Arctic air that sent temperatures plunging to about zero in parts of Minnesota yesterday is expected to move into Maryland late tomorrow or early Sunday, bringing frigid temperatures and "potentially plowable" amounts of snow, Ferger said.

Whether snow will arrive at all remains a question mark, she said. But it definitely is going to get cold, with temperatures in the teens Sunday, she said.

"If you don't hit even 20 degrees Sunday, I wouldn't be surprised," she said. "It's not going to be a pleasant day."

Yesterday's storm created its share of problems, causing numerous minor traffic accidents, canceling most of the day's racing at Laurel Park and apparently downing a utility line along Interstate 95 that backed up traffic for miles near Beltsville.

By early afternoon, the snowflakes were so heavy in Towson that they quickly piled up on fence posts and weighed down pine branches.

Morris A. Sessomes Sr., a 71-year-old retiree who lives in Guilford, ventured out in the afternoon to run errands in Towson. "The roads are bad enough to be real cautious - which most people are not being," he said with a chuckle. He was also heading to Sparks to pick up his wife from work.

"She's horrified to drive in this stuff," he said as the precipitation alternated between wet snow and an icier mixture that pelted the skin.

The storm did not deter about 400 activists and legislators at an anti-global-warming rally in Annapolis. Del. Kumar P. Barve, one of the leaders of the group pushing a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, told the crowd: "At least we have weather appropriate for wintertime, finally."

A downed utility line on Interstate 95 closed the highway in both directions near Beltsville shortly after 2 p.m., according to state highway officials. The closure backed up traffic for miles, but it was unclear late yesterday whether the problem was caused by the weather.

A total of 1,772 BGE customers lost power yesterday, with almost all of the outages occurring in Baltimore City and Prince George's and Baltimore counties. By evening, the total had fallen to 811 customers, and BGE expected to have their power restored by this morning.

In Howard County, cars slid on a number of roads, including Governor Warfield Parkway west of The Mall in Columbia. Police were trying to divert traffic from Governor Warfield because of the slippery conditions.

Malone said that his 70 large trucks were encountering a number of vehicles sliding around, making for hazardous conditions.

Howard County police reported 80 accidents between 11:50 a.m. and 4:45 p.m.

Schools were dismissed early in Baltimore City and in Carroll and Baltimore counties.

In Howard County, schools were closed early because of teacher testing, and in Anne Arundel, schools were dismissed two hours early because of a previously scheduled teacher work day. But the storm forced cancellation of all after-school activities in Anne Arundel, including makeup exams at evening high schools and a Board of Education public hearing on the fiscal 2009 budget scheduled for last night at Glen Burnie High School.

In Carroll County, power outages knocked out the Web sites of the county government, the public library and Carroll County public schools. E-mail service to employees also was affected.

In Harford, the Circuit Court closed early, and County Executive David R. Craig asked motorists not to drive unless absolutely necessary. The county canceled all parks and recreation events scheduled for last night and closed all facilities by 4:30 p.m.

The county called in more than 145 workers, operating 78 dump trucks and nearly 50 pickup trucks to salt more than 1,000 miles of county roads last night.

And in Baltimore City, transportation spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes said about 100 pieces of equipment would work through the night to plow and salt.

dennis.obrien@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Richard Irwin, Ellie Baublitz, Anica Butler, Larry Carson, Justin Fenton, Arin Gencer, Linda Linley, Jennifer McMenamin, Tom Pelton and John-John Williams IV contributed to this article.

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View a gallery of photos from yesterday's snowfall at baltimoresun.com/snow

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