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Slow-moving storm blankets area

February 17, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE and STACEY DANZUSO

julieg@herald-mail.com

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

With approximately 2 feet of snow expected to fall across the Tri-State area by the time a three-day snowstorm moves out of the area this evening, many people stayed inside Sunday.

Police and roads crews wished more people had stayed inside.

"The snow's all right. It's just the people driving," Maryland State Police Sgt. Steve McCarty said. "That's the problem."

Washington County Highway Department Director Ted Wolford said he couldn't believe the number of people he saw driving in the snowstorm Sunday. "I guess they're people that have to go to work, but I don't think they're all out here going to work," Wolford said.

There were no major weather-related accidents reported to police in Washington County as of 6:30 p.m. No serious weather-related accidents had been reported to state police and 911 dispatchers in Franklin and Fulton counties in Pennsylvania or West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle as of 7 p.m.

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The State of Maryland and Washington County activated snow emergency plans, but by Sunday afternoon the governors of Maryland and West Virginia took that one step further by declaring states of emergency.

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich banned most civilian traffic from state highways Sunday, effective until 4 a.m. today. No vehicles were to be operated on state-owned or maintained roads in Maryland unless they were emergency vehicles, vehicles providing essential services in response to the state emergency or people with medical or related emergencies.

Any abandoned vehicles on those roads would be towed at the owner's expense.

"There's too much traffic up there, too many discretionary trips being made which are interfering with our snow removal and our emergency trips as well," Ehrlich said.

A state of emergency allows governors to receive and deploy appropriate resources, and could mean authorizing overtime for state workers or calling up National Guard units.

A state of local emergency was declared in Washington County late Sunday afternoon, meaning county government offices will be closed today.

Washington County, Frederick County, Md., and Chambersburg, Pa., already had scheduled public school closings today because of Presidents' Day.

The weather led to public school closings today in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, Waynesboro Area School District and the Greencastle-Antrim School District. Hagerstown Junior College is closed today.

Officials with the Tuscarora school district could not be reached Sunday evening.

Urgent care at Robinwood Medical Center and the Robinwood Surgery Center are closed today. All nonemergency surgeries and procedures scheduled for today at Robinwood and Washington County Hospital were canceled.

MARC Train Service for today was suspended.

A runway was clear at Hagerstown Regional Airport for a USAirways flight, but the plane never took off because snow was making it difficult to get the plane properly de-iced, Airport Manager Carolyn Motz said.

The airport was closed by early afternoon.

Motz said she will work to get the airport reopened by this morning, but it will be up to airlines' officials to decide whether to fly.

Twenty to 26 inches of snow were expected in Washington and Frederick counties and the Eastern Panhandle by Monday evening, National Weather Service meteorologist Jackie Hale said.

More than 2 feet of snow was possible in Franklin and Fulton counties, weather service meteorologist John LaCorte said from State College, Pa.

If Hagerstown receives 26 inches of snow from this storm, it would be the fourth biggest snowfall in Hagerstown history, according to local weather observer Greg Keefer's Web site at i4weather.net. His records go back to 1898.

The city's biggest snowfall was the Blizzard of 1996 when 34.9 inches fell on Jan. 7-8. A storm on Feb. 11-13, 1899, dropped 30 inches of snow and on Jan. 29-30, 1966, 27 inches of snow fell.

Drifting snow could be a problem in the Tri-State area today as winds pick up, weather officials said.

"If the wind starts blowing, we're going to lose it because that will just blow everything shut that we've opened up," Wolford said.

If there are snow drifts, Wolford said his crews will start using front-end loaders to move the snow drifts that are too heavy for plows.

The snowstorm had not been declared a blizzard as of early Sunday evening, weather officials said.

To be declared a blizzard, there must be three consecutive hours of either winds above 30 mph or visibility of a quarter-mile, said Jim Vaughn, a Smithsburg weather observer and Federal Aviation Administration meteorologist.

Vaughn was stuck at work Sunday night at Reagan National Airport near Washington, D.C., despite the airport being closed, because the weather office never closes. The airport had to close because it has only one runway and it was impossible to clean the snow off in between landings.

The snow was so deep at National that Vaughn said he had to have his car towed into the parking lot.

Vaughn said it took him an hour longer than usual to get to work because of the snow and a traffic jam caused when President Bush returned to the White House from Camp David via Interstate 270.

"It was messy. There was an SUV wrapped around a tree on Md. 66 outside Smithsburg," Vaughn said. He also saw cars upside down in ditches along Interstate 70 near Myersville, Md.

"It's hairy," Vaughn said.

Staff writer Pepper Ballard contributed to this story.

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