Maryland starts early prep for snowstorm

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With a winter storm watch in effect and the possibility of several inches of snow Tuesday into Wednesday in Central Maryland, officials at Baltimore Gas and Electric have put out a call for up to 500 out-of-state utility workers to be prepared to help in the aftermath of the storm.

BGE officials said they are preparing for a storm that "will likely bring heavy, wet snow and wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour across the majority of its Central Maryland service area." The utility warned customers to prepare for possible outages Wednesday and Thursday.

According to the National Weather Service's Baltimore/Washington forecast office, the storm is expected to move across central Virginia on Tuesday into Maryland. In the Baltimore region, precipitation will likely start as rain Tuesday night, then change over to snow in many areas.

The winter storm watch — in effect Tuesday evening through Wednesday evening — means there's a possibility of 5 or more inches of snowfall, but that forecast is not ironclad, and heavy snowfall depends on the storm's track and where it intensifies.

Forecasts remained mixed Monday as to whether the heavy snowfall would hit south of Maryland or in the state. As a result, some local jurisdictions said they planned to wait until Tuesday to determine deployment of highway crews and other resources.

David Fidler, spokesman for Baltimore County's Department of Public Works, said Monday was simply too soon make definitive plans, and the county would wait until Tuesday to decide how many workers to mobilize, and when.

The same was true in Howard County, where spokeswoman Alex Bresani said the county was "monitoring the storm to see the path it's taking."

Planning was further along in Anne Arundel County, where officials said they were preparing to deal with 5 or more inches of snow by Wednesday evening.

Greg Africa, deputy director of the Anne Arundel County Bureau of Highways, said the county was readying 60 to 70 of its trucks for salt spreading and snow removal along its main traffic arteries. They'll follow up by treating secondary roads as needed, then residential ones.

County workers are scheduled to be at full force early Wednesday, Africa said, and to work 12-hour shifts until the bad weather subsides.

The county also pays $85,000 a year to keep on retainer private contractors that can supply manpower and equipment during snow events. Dozens of the contractors' trucks will also be available by Wednesday morning.

"It's highly likely" the county will need to make use of those resources, Africa said.

Unlike many surrounding counties, Anne Arundel has no dedicated fund for snow removal. Instead, the highways and public works departments do the work, then apply to the county at the end of the year. During the average year, that means requesting between $1 million and $1.5 million. Last year, there was so little snow that there were no requests for removal.

"I thought we'd dodge a bullet again [this year], but that doesn't seem to be the case," Africa said.

Baltimore County has spent more than $2.9 million on salt this winter season, compared to about $1.9 million last season. While the county hasn't seen large storms, 8 inches has fallen this winter, compared to 4 inches last season.

Baltimore County schools have had two days off this school year for inclement weather — both in October for the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, schools spokesman Charlie Herndon said. The school system has seven days built into the calendar for bad weather.

In Anne Arundel, the school system builds in four days, and also used two during Sandy, officials said.

Howard County schools took two days for inclement weather during Sandy. The system has three remaining.

The year had been on pace to be the least snowy two-year period on record for Baltimore, with 6.6 inches so far over this winter and last winter.

Still, it would take more than a foot of snow to bring this winter up to the average snowfall for a Baltimore winter of about 18-20 inches, with 4.8 inches measured on the ground so far this winter.

Baltimore Sun reporter Joe Burris contributed to this article.

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