ANNAPOLIS (Jan. 21, 2016)—REI Columbia store manager Joe Hohn is seeing triple the number of sales for a typical mid-January week for warm clothes, gloves, jackets, and emergency gear like stoves and back-up battery packs. The store even sold out of snowshoes, he said Thursday.
Sales like this can only mean one thing: Maryland is gearing up for what may be one of the biggest snowfalls the state has ever seen with an impending blizzard predicted to hit the East Coast this weekend.
Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order Thursday declaring a state of emergency in Maryland starting Friday at 7 a.m.
“The state is prepared to do everything it can to be ready for this storm,” Hogan said at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency in Reisterstown. “We urge all Marylanders to take action now to prepare, before this severe weather strikes.”
“Obviously what we are expecting to come in is supposed to be historic … but there is only so much we can do to prepare,” said David Buck, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration. “We are basically encouraging people who need to get all of their shopping and errands done to get them done now.”
The state could see snowfall depths that break into the top five deepest snowfalls ever recorded for Maryland, said meteorologist Dan Hofmann of the National Weather Service’s Baltimore/Washington forecast office. As of 2 p.m. on Thursday, the agency’s best predictions were for 20 to 30 inches of snow west of Interstate 95 and 10 to 20 inches east of the highway, Hofmann said.
Hogan said the state’s main focus will be clearing the main highways and that it could take days or even a week for road crews to dig out all local roads.
In a state of emergency, vehicles left stranded on roads are towed immediately, instead of being left for the usual 24 hours, according to a Maryland State Police spokesman.
“Our biggest concern right now is timing because the storm (Friday) will start during a busy commute,” MEMA Public Information Officer Ed McDonough said.
Pepco, Baltimore Gas and Electric and Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative all said they were poised for possible power outages.
Pepco said that in addition to 150 internal linemen, 250 contractors, and more than 200 tree crews, the company also is participating in mutual assistance calls with power companies in other states.
BGE, which serves Baltimore City and 10 Maryland counties, has 3,200 employees and 900 support contractors ready to mobilize “if there is heavy, wet snow and a high wind combination that can certainly bring down tree limbs, and the power lines and delivery equipment,” spokesman Justin Mulcahy said.
SMECO, an electric cooperative in southern Prince George’s, Charles, St. Mary’s, and most of Calvert counties, also was preparing for the worst, based on “the severity of the weather and the wind speed,” spokesman Tom Dennison said.
District Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a snow emergency starting at 9:30 a.m. Friday. Public schools in the city will be closed.
While the District’s government will close at noon, the Office of Personnel Management mid-day Thursday had not yet reached a decision about a federal government closure Friday.
Light snow and icy roads Wednesday night led to long delays on the Capital Beltway and other arterial roadways. Even transportation experts were caught off-guard.
One AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman said she saw an overturned vehicle while driving from Annapolis last night, and a spokesman said that it took him three hours just to get back to his house.
“When the snow hit, the roads became a sheet of ice,” AAA spokesman John Townsend said. “I did an interview with FOX-5 last night…I left the studio around 9 and I didn’t get home until 12:15 in the morning.”
Townsend said that AAA received 3,463 distress calls in Maryland just Wednesday night, with the majority being for towing purposes.
Kaitlin Durkosh, a spokeswoman for Uber, said the transportation company will cap their dynamic or “surge” pricing during the storm due to the declaration of a state of emergency. All profits not designated to Uber drivers during the state of emergency will be donated to the American Red Cross, Durkosh said.
This weekend’s storm could rival only a few previous snowstorms in the state’s history. According to Weather.com, Washington, D.C., has experienced a snow storm that produced at least 20 inches of snow only twice—in 1899 and 1922.
While some won’t have to work over the weekend, the snowfall will pile on work for others.
Dave Shackelford, who works for the state’s Department of General Services, said he is one of roughly 15 to 20 people who will spend the next several days shoveling snow in Annapolis.
“I came in today at 4 a.m., and we know we’ll be here from Friday through Sunday at least. We’ll be here for the next several days without going home,” he said. “And we’ll sleep wherever—if there’s a sofa, a couch somewhere, that’s where we’ll go.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced that the Senate would not vote again this week and would resume work on Tuesday, according to spokesman Robert Steurer. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on Thursday afternoon had not yet announced plans for his chamber.
WMATA has over 900 employees assigned to emergency weather response, and nearly 600 pieces of equipment ready for snow emergencies, including bladed tractors, snow blowers, and bobcats.
The agency said late Thursday that it would suspend service of both Metrorail and Metrobus on Friday evening and it would remain closed Saturday and Sunday.
Amtrak was operating under a normal schedule for the weekend even with the expected record-breaking snowfall.
Spokeswoman Chelsea Kopta on Thursday said Amtrak will be have tree-trimmers and mechanical engineering crews monitoring the safety of the trains and tracks. Kopta said that travelers should use extra caution on platforms and to allow themselves extra travel time.
Colleges and public schools were preparing for several days off, with some closing early on Friday and others canceling classes altogether.
Anne Arundel County Public Schools are dismissing two hours early on Friday due to examinations, but a spokesman said that there will still be an issue of clearing out snow from school parking lots once the storm settles.
The University of Maryland will be closed from Friday to Sunday and Montgomery College will close at noon on Friday and remain closed through the weekend.
Sophia Dillard, the campus visit coordinator at St. John’s College, said when she went to the store Wednesday night, it looked like employees were already restocking the shelves.
“I went right before closing to buy some more food—some more cans of tuna, that kind of thing—and they were putting stuff on the shelves,” she said, adding that “some people are planning to get stuck” before the snow arrives.
Terry Owens, spokesman for the District Department of Transportation, said more than 2,000 volunteers have been recruited to assist the elderly with snow removal.
The Central Union Mission, an emergency shelter in Washington, made room for more than 20 additional men for the impending weather emergency.
“People need to know that it’s dangerous—even deadly to be outside in these temperatures,” David Treadwell, Central Union Mission executive director, said in a press release. “They might resist our concern, but regardless of their attitude, their rags and cardboard boxes are no match for this kind of cold.”
Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority spokesman Christopher Paolino said crews are preparing equipment to pre-treat runways and roadways as well as to clear snow as the storm advances.
However, “safety is the first priority and if snowfall rates get too high, we will close the runways until we can get them clear,” Paolino said Thursday afternoon.
The authority, which operates Reagan National and Dulles International airports, posted snow information for travelers on its website. It encourages travelers to check with their airlines for flight information and to consider hotel accommodations if flights are canceled.
It may take days for air travel to return to normal.
“Those ramifications can be felt even in parts of the country that didn’t get any snow,” Paolino said.
While area agencies and officials are bracing for trouble from the impending snow, area ski resorts are thrilled to see their first snowstorm of the season.
“The AWESOME snowstorm? The WONDERFUL snowstorm?” said Liberty Mountain marketing director Anne Weimer.
After a warm and wet December, this weekend will help the skiing season’s late start, said Chris Dudding, marketing director at Roundtop Mountain Resort.
Liberty Mountain’s hotel, which holds around 300 guests, is already full for the weekend, Weimer said. Representatives from Wisp and Roundtop resorts said those hotels were filling up too.
“There’s buzz and excitement in the air,” said Wisp Resort Director of Marketing Lori Zaloga. “Diehard skiers and snowboarders have been ringing our phone line off the hook with reservations.”
Leo Traub, Connor Glowacki, Rachel Bluth, Jessica Campisi, Josh Magness, Troy Jefferson, Auburn Mann, Alana Pedalino, Alexandra Pamias, Deepa Ramudamu, Joelle Lang, Dan Russo and Rebecca Rainey contributed to this report.