Snow squall catches drivers and roads crews off guard

December 10, 2010|DON AINES |
  • Rescue workers remove a driver from a van in the median Friday morning on Interstate 81 south of the Maugans Avenue exit. A fast-moving snowstorm caused slippery conditions across the Tri-State.
Kevin G. Gilbert | Staff Photographer

WASHINGTON COUNTY — Friday morning’s snow squall caught state and county roads crews off guard, forcing them to abandon regular maintenance jobs and return to storage facilities to load salt trucks to treat the icy roads.

The unexpected storm sent cars and trucks skidding off roads and into each other and caused multi-vehicle pile-ups on Interstate 70 in eastern Washington County and western Frederick County, Maryland State Police said.

There were also accidents on Interstate 81, including one reported at 10:37 a.m. in which a van struck a tree and another that sent a pickup truck into the median, a county 911 dispatcher said.

A snow emergency plan was put into effect in Washington County at 11:45 a.m. “due to a sudden, unexpected snow squall that has caused hazardous driving conditions,” state police said in an e-mail alert. The snow emergency plan was lifted at 2 p.m.

State police in Frederick County put their snow plan into effect at 11 a.m.


The Franklin County Department of Emergency Services report receiving 50 to 60 calls for automobile accidents from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

A Berkeley County, West Virginia, 911 official reported no major accidents there, but a Jefferson County dispatcher reported a portion of W.Va. 9 had to be closed, and U.S. 340 was closed at the Potomac River bridge for a time.

SHA road crews in District 6, which comprises Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties, went back to the maintenance facilities to get their salt trucks, Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman Charlie Gischlar said.

The fact that the storm occurred during the morning commute meant some crews were hampered in getting to some of the most affected stretches of road because of the deteriorating traffic situation, he said.

Gischlar said a weather forecast for about a 20 percent chance of snow flurries did not warrant sending crews out to pretreat roads.

Washington County Highway Department Director Ed Plank said the storm wasn’t expected.

“It kind of caught us all off guard,” he said. “It wasn’t really the accumulation, but the temperature” that made the roads so treacherous, he said.

Gischlar said the days of freezing temperatures meant that whatever hit the roads was going to stick.

The accumulation of snow and ice was just 0.1 inches, according to Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer’s website,

Crews were slated to be out for the evening rush hour, into the night and Saturday morning patrolling for icy spots, Gischlar said.

About 15 county crews were salting roads in the aftermath of the squall, with the main emphasis Friday afternoon making sure the school bus routes were in good shape, Plank said. County road crews had also started the morning on scheduled maintenance projects, he said.

Western Allegany County and Garrett County could see state roads pretreated this weekend with a new mixture of 85 percent salt brine and 15 percent sugar beet molasses if weather projections warrant and road conditions are suitable, Gischlar said. The beet molasses helps the pretreatment mix better adhere to the road surface, he said.

After-school, evening activities canceled

All Washington County Public Schools after-school and evening activities scheduled for Friday are canceled, according to an e-mail announcement from WCPS shortly before 3 p.m.

Earlier, Frederick County (Md.) Public Schools announced the cancellation of after-school and evening events due to inclement weather.

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