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Snow blankets area

December 29, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

Tri-State area residents hunkered down for a winter storm that was not expected to do its worst until late Monday and early today.

Snow started falling in the Hagerstown area after 5 p.m., and 1.8 inches had fallen by 9:30 p.m.

Washington County's snow emergency plan went into effect at 8:30 p.m., banning vehicles not equipped with chains or snow tires from snow emergency routes.

Forecasts calling for up to a foot of snow sent people to grocery stores and hardware shops. But a National Weather Service forecaster said the area might get a break because the storm was a fast-moving one.

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Jim Wiesmueller, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said winter storm warnings were in effect throughout the region Monday night. He said the higher-elevation areas would get more snow, with Hagerstown likely to receive between 6 and 12 inches.

"It could be more, but it's a pretty fast-moving storm," he said. "I doubt if you'll get double digits" of accumulation.

Wiesmueller said the storm's intensity was expected to increase as the night wore on and then taper off to scattered snow showers early today, with windy and cold conditions taking over.

The possibility of snow sent many into grocery stores for provisions.

"It's been exceptionally busy," said Steve Hines, manager of County Market. "We've got all the registers going right now, and for a Monday, that's pretty good."

Jeff Sines, manager of the Valley Plaza Weis Market, said people were stocking up on bread, milk and other staples throughout the morning.

"Any time they call for snow, people get excited - like they're going to get snowed in for a couple of days," he said. "It's died off now a little bit, but we were busy this morning."

Road preparations

Road crews planned ahead for the anticipated snowfall.

Jim Sterling, assistant superintendent of the Washington County Roads Department, said crews spent much of the early evening laying salt in an attempt to prevent the roads from freezing. After the snow began accumulating after 9 p.m., he said they began plowing.

Sterling said 12 independent contractors joined 31 county trucks on the streets. He said crews would continue to plow as long as needed. After that, he said he hoped the wind would remain calm.

"Two inches of snow could turn into a foot real quick," he said.

West Virginia officials said crews go on 12-hour shifts when a big snowfall is expected. That was the case with crews handling the roads in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties.

"We're as ready as we can be," said Bruce DeHaven, the West Virginia Division of Highways maintenance supervisor for Interstate 81 in Berkeley County. He said four trucks waited before snow started falling.

Berkeley County Supervisor of Highways Bud Donaldson said he had eight trucks ready to tackle the county's 600 miles of roads and the interstate crews join in once that highway is cleared.

"Just as soon as it starts to snow, we get the trucks out and start cindering," Donaldson said. Plowing begins once the snow accumulates to about two inches.

"In a normal snow we can pretty much get over the county in a period of 24 to 36 hours," he said. If a medical emergency occurs, though, he said trucks are assigned to clear the way for ambulances.

Donnie Dillow, Jefferson County maintenance foreman, said he had nine trucks ready to hit the 360 miles of roads there, along with many miles more of private roads into subdivisions that the county plows.

Morgan County maintenance supervisor John Coleman said five full-size trucks in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., and two more in Paw Paw, W.Va., were waiting for whatever came. Light snow started falling there at about 4:15 p.m., he said.

Coleman said there are about 400 miles of roads to take care of in Morgan County. He said any problems caused by the snow would be greatly reduced if people would slow down and give themselves extra time to get where they are going.

Cpl. Charles R. Ellis shift supervisor at the Martinsburg Police Department on Monday afternoon, said the department was ready to put snow chains on its cruisers and had three four-wheel-drive vehicles if needed.

Pennsylvania officials also said they were ready. A winter storm warning for much of Southcentral Pennsylvania issued by the National Weather Service was all township road supervisors needed to put drivers on standby, fuel up the trucks, attach the snowplows and mix the salt and cinders.

The township has five snowplows to cover just over 100 miles of roads, said Mark Bradshaw, public works inspector for Antrim Township, Pa., said.

A prediction of a hearty snowstorm is usually good for business at grocery stores and gas stations.

"Everybody tries to stockpile a little bit. They don't know how bad it's going to be," said Mick Zirk, owner of the Bedington Cross-Roads Convenience Store in Berkeley County.

While grocery stores were more crowded than normal, not everyone was worried about the snow.

Greencastle, Pa., resident Ron Ganoe was loading up his minivan with bags of groceries Monday around 6 p.m., but said it was a normal shopping trip for his family.

"The snow doesn't really matter to me," he said.

Staff Writers Don Aines and Lisa Graybeal contributed to this story.

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