With a snowstorm in the forecast that could be the biggest in March in two decades, local governments are breaking their winter weather response budgets, and some are running low on salt.

A cold front is expected to move in overnight Wednesday, bringing more frigid temperatures and several inches of snow. Depending on how quickly cold air rushes in and how intensely precipitation develops, the region could see a dusting to more than 6 inches of snow.


"It does look like we're going to need the snow shovels on Thursday," said Tom Kines, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather.com. "It's a matter of if it's 3 inches or 10 inches. I think that's the question mark."

With the particularly harsh winter, a number of localities in the Baltimore region have spent more than they planned on plowing snow and salting icy roads, and are dipping into other funds.

Officials with Baltimore and Howard counties say they have only enough salt to last the week before they are forced to buy more.

"Bottom line: We're always going to have the money for snow removal because we don't have a choice," said Lauren Watley, a spokeswoman for Baltimore County's Department of Public Works, where this winter's snowstorm tally is $11 million and growing.

"We have enough salt to last us through this week of storms," she added. "After that, we'll be looking to our suppliers to replenish."

The seemingly endless winter has created a greater-than-normal demand for salt up and down the East Coast, said Roberta Windham, a spokeswoman for Carroll County's government.

Carroll County has enough salt on hand, but paid a premium for salt shipments that arrived over the weekend — $93 per ton, compared with $65 per ton the county paid at the beginning of winter. Carroll budgeted $1.9 million for winter storm cleanup this year and hit that amount in early February.

While Baltimore and Carroll counties have exceeded winter storm budgets, officials said they have plenty of money available in other funds to pay for the overruns. Baltimore County put $6 million in its budget as a "placeholder" for winter storms.

Harford County's winter weather costs also have been driven up by the use of salt, as repeated stretches of frigid weather have led to icy roads, said county spokeswoman Cindy Mumby. For winter storm cleanup, including both plowing and salting, Harford had budgeted $1.47 million and spent $1.74 million through last week.

Harford County doesn't have a go-to pot of money to pay for storm cost overruns. "We're going to find it elsewhere in the budget," Mumby said.

Howard County also will be looking at budget adjustments to pay for its snowstorm costs, which have totaled $3.9 million so far, according to Andy Barth, a county spokesman. Howard had budgeted $1.4 million for winter storm cleanup and has $2 million available in a contingency fund.

"I know that we'll do what it takes to be safe. Where it would come from is under discussion," Barth said.

Baltimore City has spent $4.8 million on winter storm cleanup, surpassing the $3.5 million that was available through the budget and leftover money from last year, according to Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Transportation.

The finance department will now have to figure out how to pay the bills for plowing and salting the city's 2,000 miles of roads.


Anne Arundel County does not budget a specific amount of money for winter storms. Each winter's costs are paid for through a contingency fund.

Relatively warm air is forecast to bring highs into the 40s Wednesday, but temperatures are expected to drop to the mid-20s by early Thursday morning, turning Wednesday's rain showers into snow some time between nightfall and daybreak.

The National Weather Service is predicting 4 to 6 inches of snow across Central Maryland, but the snowfall could be as little as an inch or two and as much as one foot close to the Mason-Dixon Line.

The region saw an 8-inch snowfall over two days last March, but before that, there hasn't been so much snow during the first month of meteorological spring since a foot fell in March 1993.

Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this report.