A ferocious storm walloped Maryland on the last weekend before Christmas, shutting down shopping malls and airports, clogging roads and keeping most people hunkered in their homes to wait out the unusual pre-holiday snow.

The weather system, which the National Weather Service said broke a record for a December storm in this area, dumped as much as 18 to 20 inches in some areas as Gov. Martin O'Malley declared a state of emergency and deployed the National Guard.

It punished retailers and procrastinating holiday shoppers on one of the year's busiest shopping days, while putting the Ravens' afternoon contest today in flux when the Chicago Bears' flight into BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport was delayed.

Marylanders awoke Saturday morning to snow piling up at a rate of as much as 2 to 3 inches an hour, propelled by heavy winds that blew flakes sideways and made it difficult to keep roads clear. As of dinnertime Saturday, most areas had seen totals approaching nearly 2 feet.

"The snow is falling so quickly, it's impossible for crews to stay ahead of it," O'Malley said.

State Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley said that 2,400 workers and 2,300 pieces of equipment were clearing roads starting at 10 p.m. Friday.

Though no serious injuries were reported on the major roads, secondary roads were littered with vehicles that had lost control in the snowy, icy conditions. Exit ramps were said to be particularly treacherous.

"If there are roads, there's a car crushed up on it," said Anne Arundel County police officer Jeremy Serio. Asked if any roads in the county had been closed, Serio said: "I wish they all were."

Dozens of flights at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport were grounded before officials halted all flights in the early afternoon to clear runways. An Air Jamaica flight twice got stuck on the runway, holding its passengers hostage for more than six hours and prompting at least one of them to call police. One Chicago Bears' flight out of Illinois was also scratched, though the team reported that it hoped to leave late Saturday night.

Workers at M&T; Bank Stadium cleared snow all day and Ravens vice president of operations Bob Eller proclaimed the venue be ready for today's kickoff, which had already been pushed back to 4:15 p.m. in anticipation of the snowstorm. The team had 700 workers at the stadium beginning Friday so they would be available to help clear the area, as well as 125 inmates and supervisors from the state Department of Corrections.

More than 1,000 homes in Baltimore County, 500 in Anne Arundel County and 100 in Harford County were without power at various points throughout the day, according to Baltimore Gas and Electric, with officials attributing many of the outages to motorists slamming into utility poles.

Unrelated to the storm, about 400 customers in Baltimore were without service because of a problem with an underground cable, with the weather hindering efforts to repair the damage.

Malls and shopping centers that should have been packed with shoppers buying last-minute holiday gifts on what is usually one of the busiest days of the season were nearly empty in the morning, then locked at midday.

Stores were reporting sales of sleds, snow boots and food to help weather the storm, instead of gadgets, clothes and jewelry for under the tree.

Most large shopping centers were closed altogether by early afternoon. At White Marsh Mall, a handwritten sign on the door of Trade Secret read: "Closed because of the blizzard of 2009," and had a hand drawn snowman underneath the lettering.

"We're all nauseous," said Debbie Stoll, owner of Kiss N' Make-up, a shop that sells cosmetics and gifts in Hampden. She opened later than usual, at 11:30, and after three hours had rung up just four sales -- barely 10 percent of what she would have expected in good weather.

"These two days could have at least made a bad year a little bit better," she said, referring to Saturday and today. "It's just really bad timing. Had it been any other year, where business had been on par, it would kind of put people in the spirit."

While only the bravest were willing to face the snowy weather, some had no choice but to keep their plans. Funeral homes reported few cancellations, and a funeral procession worked its way to Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens at midday.

In Hampden, Christmas shoppers Andy Henning and Anna Schneider traipsed down the middle of snow-covered 36th Street, squinting through the driving flakes for "open" signs.

Only about half the stores they passed were open, said Henning, a visiting scientist at the Johns Hopkins University, but the couple managed to find Baltimore postcards, a decorative spoon and a T-shirt for relatives in their native Germany.

"Regarding the circumstances," Henning said, "we've done quite OK."

The storm hit just before the first day of winter, which is Monday. It was unusual in its intensity, fueled by moisture sweeping across the South hitting chilly air that had descended into the Mid-Atlantic. December isn't often a snowy month in Baltimore, with an average of just 1.7 inches, compared with 7 inches for January and 6.4 for February.

The high for a single snow event in December had been 14.1 inches in 1960. And recent years haven't brought much snow accumulation to the Baltimore region, so many were relishing the storm.

Jamaeka Nueva, 8, of Cedarcroft had gotten up at 3:30 a.m. just to peek at the snow out the window, said her mother, Rowena Nueva. She went sledding later in her neighborhood, then had a lunch of macaroni and cheese and root beer at Belvedere Square.

"I've been wishing for snow for days," Jamaeka said.

"She wished for 3 feet," said her mother. "Be careful what you wish for."

Her dad, Rob Rhinehart, said he was enjoying the snow almost as much as his daughter: "It brings out the kid in you," he said.

In Maryland, snow - usually even just the promise of it - is always accompanied by a bit of panic, and some area supermarkets were sporting stripped shelves and empty produce bins Saturday after a Friday rush. At the Burwood Shopping Center in Linthicum about 2 p.m., the Food Lion supermarket was doing a brisk business; three check-out clerks were ringing up a steady stream of customers, most with a handful of items in their carts.

Christy McClanchan of Baltimore Highlands was out getting groceries, and was pretty much unfazed by the snow. How unfazed? This was the second time she'd been out Saturday. About 10 a.m., she was out in search of a cup of Starbuck's coffee for her daughter, Amy Brace, who was visiting from an Army base in Alabama. "I've got to take care of my Army brat," McClanchan said.

Prepared for the snow but not exactly enjoying it, Marisa Henger of Harundale got out of her Hummer, followed closely by her mother, Gloria Pumphrey.

"We're celebrating Christmas tomorrow, so she's got to get some stuff," she said, shaking the snow out of her hair. "She wouldn't go out driving in it, so I was nominated."

With any number of Christmas parties and holiday events canceled because of the weather, people were searching for ways to pass the time.

Katie Delaney, holed up in a downtown hotel, was planning a shopping trip to Filene's Basement.

"My hotel has an indoor pool, and I need a bathing suit," said Delaney, who works in Alexandria, Va.

And then?

"I might go to Federal Hill for a little pub crawl," she said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Don Markus, Chris Kaltenbach, Scott Calvert, Timothy B. Wheeler, Frederick N. Rasmussen, Kate Shatzkin, Andrea K. Walker and Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.


The following events are canceled and public facilities are closed today because of the storm:

* Baltimore Farmers' Market, at Holliday and Saratoga streets.

* Enoch Pratt Central Library and all branches.

* Performances ofMoscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker, at1 p.m. and 5 p.m., are canceled. The shows are rescheduled for Jan. 2 and Jan. 3.

* University of Maryland, College Park will be closed, and all activities are canceled.

For more closing information, check www.baltimoresun.com

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