Inches of rain could have been feet of snow

January 09, 1998



Staff Writers

A hard rain pummeled Washington and Frederick counties Thursday, but the area would have been buried in snow if temperatures hadn't been unseasonably warm.

Up to three inches of rain fell in some areas of Washington County, said J. Theodore Wolford, county roads superintendent.

That would have amounted to 30 inches of snow had temperatures been in the low 30s, weather officials said.

The 0.87 inches of rain that fell in Hagerstown would have worked out to nearly nine inches of snow.

"If this had been snow we probably would have been home for a couple days," said Chris Carter, transportation director for Washington County public schools.


County schools were dismissed an hour early Thursday after the National Weather Service issued a flash-flood watch. Many motorists in Frederick County, also under a flood watch, had to find alternate routes Thursday afternoon after 35 roads were closed because of flooded creeks and streams.

The watches were lifted by late afternoon, but 40 roads remained closed in Frederick County, where up to two inches of rain created hazards for drivers.

Wolford said Washington County would have been ready had the precipitation been in the form of snow.

"We'd been prepared because of all the talk about El Nino," Wolford said.

County roads crews were prepared in January 1996 when the area received a record 35 inches of snow in three days from one storm, he said.

In Washington County, the storm flooded Mills Road near Sharpsburg and King Road near Boonsboro, Wolford said.

In Jefferson County, West Virginia, a section of Mission Road was closed after water ran over a bridge.

Three roads were closed by flooding in Berkeley County, W.Va., according to a 911 dispatcher.

Allensville Road and McCubbins Hollow Road, both in the Hedgesville area, and Henshaw Road near Inwood, were ordered closed by the county's office of emergency services at about 3:45 p.m., according to the dispatcher.

As of 10:30 p.m. the roads were still closed, she said.

Several accidents were reported, according to Maryland State Police in Hagerstown and Frederick.

In Frederick County, two vehicles were stranded on a flooded Opossumtown Pike Thursday morning near Frederick Community College after the engines stalled when drivers tried to get through the flooded road, said firefighter Mike Marchesani with Junior Fire Co.

The drivers were able to walk through the 12 to 18 inches of water to dry ground, Marchesani said.

The road became flooded after a small creek backed up, he said.

"When there's that much water across the road they shouldn't attempt to cross," Marchesani said. There's no way to tell how high the water is, he said.

A Maugansville Goodwill Volunteer Fire Co. command vehicle, a 1988 Chevrolet Caprice, got stuck in eight inches of mud Thursday morning after a tractor-trailer ran the car off the road, said Chief Phil Ridenour.

The Caprice slid on wet grass, hit an exit sign on Interstate 81 north of Showalter Road, and its windshield shattered, he said. The driver was on the way back from an errand, Ridenour said.

The warm weather shattered one Hagerstown temperature record, according to local weather observer Greg Keefer.

The record high temperature in Hagerstown for Jan. 8 - 64 degrees in 1907 - was topped shortly after midnight. It reached 68 degrees by 1:26 p.m. on Thursday, according to Keefer.

The warm weather was caused by a very slow-moving frontal system, bringing warm air from the Gulf of Mexico and Florida, according to Jim Decarufel, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.

It won't last long.

"With all this rain, the front will be moving through so the temperatures will be slowly dropping," Decarufel said.

Today will be mild with temperatures in the 50s, but colder air will move back into the region on Saturday. Highs should be in the 40s.

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