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Snow dusting, freezing temps slicken roadways

Several traffic accidents reported Tuesday across Washington County

January 03, 2012|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • Patricia Flynn of Hagerstown took a windy walk with her dogs Christian, left, a chocolate Lab, and Savannah, right, an Akita mix, around Hagerstown's Fairgrounds Park Tuesday afternoon.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

An unexpected dusting of snow that didn't measure as precipitation on weather instruments slickened roadways and caused several traffic accidents Tuesday morning across Washington County.

The snowfall caught road crews by surprise because it wasn't in the weather forecast, said Ed Plank, director of the Washington County Highway Department.

"We didn't expect it to hit," said Plank, noting that about 20 of the county's 40 salt trucks were on the road by about 7 a.m. "We got a little behind the eight ball .... We weren't expecting any accumulation. I checked the weather forecast, and it looked like it was going to miss us."

Jared Klein, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said roadways can get slick even with a light dusting of snow if road temperatures fall below freezing, as was the case Tuesday.

"That causes the snow to stick," he said. "All you need is a dusting to get roads slick."

The most severe local accident occurred at about 5:30 a.m., when icy conditions caused a pickup truck to crash on Interstate 70 east near Big Pool, Maryland State Police 1st Sgt. Kevin Lewis said.

The accident snarled traffic on that stretch of  I-70 for a little more than three hours, he said.

"You need to drive for the conditions," Lewis said. "If the weather is starting to change into snow, you have to slow down and drive accordingly."

Lewis said he didn't have details, but several minor accidents were also reported near Big Pool in addition to the one that involved the pickup. He said there were no reports of serious injuries.

Another accident in the western part of the county occurred at about 6:50 a.m., when a car slid on an icy road and struck a school bus east of Hancock, the Washington County Sheriff's Office said.

A 2007 Toyota Yaris traveling south on Hollow Road slid into the left side of the northbound bus, according to a sheriff's office news release.

Deputies said the Toyota, which was driven by Tiffany Winn, 23, of Hancock glanced off the bus and struck an embankment. It had to be towed from the scene.

The bus sustained minor damage, the sheriff's office said. Another bus picked up the children and drove them to school.

Winn was charged with failing to control her speed to avoid a collision, police said.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said a two-vehicle accident occurred at about 8:30 a.m. at the intersection of Franklin Street and Nottingham Road.

He said two pickups collided when one of them ran a red light.

"It wasn't weather-related," Smith said. "It looks like a red-light violation."

The thin layer of snow that coated vehicles and the ground early Tuesday failed to measure on the precipitation scale, according to i4weather.net, a website operated by local weather observer Greg Keefer.

The temperature dipped to a daytime low of 22.6 degrees, but the wind-chill made it feel like 10 degrees at 2:59 p.m.

The light snow and sub-freezing temperatures caused the roadways to become slippery, prompting local highway and public works officials to send out the salt trucks.

Plank said southern Washington County received hardly any snow, compared to the western and northeastern parts, which were hit the heaviest.

Eric Deike, manager of Hagerstown public works, said the city also got caught off guard.

He said the dusting made officials question whether to salt the roads, but they decided to do it because of the low temperatures.

Road crews started salting at 7 a.m., and finished all 110 miles of the city's roadways about 3 1/2 hours later, he said.

"We just went ahead and salted everything," Deike said. "We hit all the streets."

Deike and Plank said their salt supplies were in good shape, in large part because there was no snow in November and December. An early winter snowstorm blanketed the area in October.

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