Record-setting storm smothers area

December 19, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

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    TRI-STATE -- Road crews worked overtime, shopping centers closed their doors and police pleaded for residents to stay at home Saturday as the region was slammed with the largest December snowstorm on record.

    Snow began falling at about 10 p.m. Friday and by 1 p.m. Saturday, more than a foot of snow had fallen in Hagerstown, according to, the Web site for Greg Keefer's Hagerstown weather station. By 7 p.m., the total in Hagerstown was 16 inches, according to Keefer's site.

    Snow emergency plans went into effect in Washington and Frederick counties at 11:30 p.m. Friday, Maryland State Police said.

    A winter storm warning from the National Weather Service was to remain in effect until 6 a.m. today. NWS was predicting that lighter snow showers would continue overnight Saturday.


By Saturday evening, three West Virginia Counties -- Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan -- had announced school closures for Monday.

All Washington County transit system services, including the County Commuter, were canceled Saturday, but were expected to resume Monday.

Hagerstown Regional Airport closed its main runway Saturday after Cape Air announced it had canceled its commuter flights to Baltimore, Airport Manager Carolyn Motz said.

The airport planned to reopen its terminal building at 9 a.m. today, and the Cape Air flights were expected to resume with the 3:06 p.m. flight from Hagerstown to Baltimore this afternoon, Motz said.

The snow led to numerous event cancellations and business closures Saturday, including the closure of Prime Outlets and Valley Mall on the last Saturday before Christmas, normally a heavy shopping day.

Allegheny Power's online outage management system showed a few scattered outages throughout the day Saturday. By the evening, the most significant outages were one affecting about 100 customers in Falling Waters, W.Va., and one affecting about 50 customers in Chambersburg, Pa.

Road crews were out in full force Saturday and focused on trying to keep main roads passable for emergency vehicles, officials said.

Emergency dispatchers in Washington County said several dozen crashes had occurred by Saturday evening, but most were minor and only a few required transport to hospitals.

In West Virginia, Interstate 81 northbound was closed for more than two hours Saturday evening after a tractor-trailer overturned north of Exit 20 near Spring Mills. West Virginia State Police said the driver was not believed to be seriously injured.

As of Saturday evening, the interstates in Washington County were passable, but the shoulders still needed to be pushed back, said Paul Frushour, Resident Maintenance Engineer for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Secondary state routes were covered in snow, despite having been plowed many times, Frushour said. Wind gusts were combining with the continued accumulation to cover roads that had been plowed, he said.

In Hagerstown, city roads crews focused on keeping the main roads passable for most of the day Saturday, then planned to work throughout Saturday night and today to open secondary streets, residential areas and parking lots, Public Works Manager Eric Deike said.

Deike said he thought that within the city, most residents should be able to get out by Monday.

Washington County roads crews also set Monday as their goal for having roads in subdivisions opened and cleared, Washington County Highway Department Director Edwin Plank said.

"I'm sure that will have a lot of criticism, but the way the last 12 hours have went, I hope and pray we can even be close to that," Plank said at about 7 p.m.

Plank said low temperatures were causing the packed snow to become ice, and county trucks were losing traction and some had crashed or become stuck.

"The guys have been doing an excellent job, it's just adversity that we haven't faced for a couple of years," Plank said.

Plank said he didn't think there was any way the county could get its roads completely bare Sunday.

"It's just not going to happen," he said. "Hopefully, the temperature will work with us and we'll work towards that by the end of (Sunday), but I honestly can't say that's going to be the case."

The State Highway Administration had 60 trucks working on state roads in Washington County, Frushour said.

The City of Hagerstown had about 20 people working in about 17 trucks, Deike said.

Mark Baker of the West Virginia Division of Highways said about 15 inches of snow had fallen by noon at the agency's maintenance headquarters along Rock Cliff Drive in Berkeley County.

"This stuff is real dry and will blow," said Baker, who said drifting snow could complicate travel after the storm ends. A dozen DOH trucks were plowing primary roads Saturday and five more were keeping I-81 open, Baker said.

In Morgan County, W.Va., Office of Emergency Services director Dave Michael said 18 to 24 inches of snow had fallen in and around Berkeley Springs by late afternoon.

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