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Snow/ice mix keeps police, plows hopping

December 15, 2003|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

The season's second early blast of wintry weather left roads throughout Washington County snowy and icy, and left motorists on interstate roads with the most headaches.

Still, no major injuries or outages were reported in connection with the storm.

Most parts of Washington County received between 4 and 5 inches of snow plus about one-half inch of precipitation (sleet/ice/melted snow) during a storm that hit the area early Sunday, National Weather Service Meteorologist Jim DeCarufel said. DeCarufel said areas west of the Tri-State area recorded higher accumulations.

The Web site of Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer reported 5.3 inches of snow and 0.99 inch of precipitation as of 9:30 p.m. The site said the snow tally for December is up to 13.5 inches, 0.3 short of last year's amount for the month. That was the snowiest December since 1973, according to the site.

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DeCarufel said snow and sleet likely would give way to rain before the storm ended late Sunday. And with a low in the mid-20s overnight, DeCarufel said conditions likely would deteriorate on area roads.

"Roads will be freezing into chunks of ice overnight - that's a given," DeCarufel said.

Late Sunday, many troopers with Maryland State Police's Hagerstown barracks still were filing reports on a large number of minor crashes on major roads throughout the day. Sgt. Denton Lowry said troopers were responding to accidents "pretty much everywhere." He said none of them caused serious injuries.

"We're just trying to keep our head above water," Lowry said early Sunday.

Between 3 and 9 p.m. alone, troopers responded to 29 incidents related to fender-bender accidents and motorists who became stranded on the sides of roads.

"It was everywhere on the intestates, not one particular spot," Lowry said. "People (were) driving too fast for the conditions."

Washington County Sheriff's Sgt. Travers Rupert said deputies responded to minor accidents, but nothing serious. Hagerstown Police Department Sgt. Paul Kifer said city roads were surprisingly quiet during a period of potentially treacherous, icy road conditions.

"We had a couple here or there - most we had were one-vehicle accidents with minor damage," Kifer said. "There's not a lot of traffic out."

Gary Shank, resident maintenance engineer for the State Highway Administration, said workers clearing roads in the county faced most of their problems during the periods of sleet and freezing rain, not snow. Shank said the worst conditions were during a two-hour burst of freezing rain Sunday afternoon.

"Ice takes longer to get off the road," Shank said. "You just have to keep applying chemicals."

Shank said about 60 employees began alternating shifts Sunday at midnight, hours before the brunt of the storm hit. Shank said workers would continue to clear roads overnight into today in preparation for the rush hour. He said interstates and primary roads should be in much better condition than ramps, bridge overpasses and secondary roads.

"Ramps still have some ice on them, but we're getting to them as the main lines are cleared," Shank said.

Those relying on County Commuter buses Monday should not be greatly impacted by the weather. Though a spokesperson could not be reached Sunday, a greeting on the County Commuter phone line Sunday said all buses were running.

Allegheny Energy Spokesman Guy Fletcher said there were no reported outages in Washington County through 7:30 p.m. Sunday, though employees were "keeping their eyes" on weather developments through the evening.

Antietam Cable employees faced a similar lack of problems, as just one cable outage was reported as a result of the weather, a spokesman said.

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