A White Christmas For Maryland

Posted on December 18, 2009

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In November, a damaging, slow-moving tropical-storm-turned-nor’easter drenched the South and the East Coast, causing flooding and significant beach erosion from North Carolina to Ocean City, Maryland, and Delaware.

Now, in December, we’re going to experience a winter version of that storm, again moving South to North, with heavy rain in the South, and heavy snow from the North Carolina mountains through much of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and north. Winds will likely be strong enough to cause near-blizzard conditions in some areas.

We don’t get a whole lot of snow here in Maryland, and rarely any measurable snow before Christmas. Winter doesn’t even begin, officially, until Dec. 21. In the typical year, Maryland gets several dustings of snow, and one or two snowfalls in the six- to eight-inch range. Some winters, we have hardly any snow at all.  And about once every nine years or so, Maryland experiences a whopper snowstorm, a foot or more, the kind of snowstorm that brings our busy lives to a full stop for one or two days.

Personally, I think it’s great to be forced to stay in one place for a couple of days, to be reminded that life goes on without frantic work. Of course, sometimes I find a way to resist. One blizzard hit about four days before my monthly deadline in the late 1980s, and I carried an armful of work home and edited right through the storm. These days, I suppose folks can keep working from home via the Internet. Of course, the first thing most people think about is: “How long will it take to dig out the car?”

Our last really severe winter was in January and February 1996, if my memory is correct. I was commuting from Westminster, MD, to a newspaper in York, PA. One storm, I think in January, shut the region down for three days. Officials in Pennsylvania declared an emergency and made it illegal for anyone to be on the highways except emergency personnel — doctors, nurses, police, fire-fighters, and highway crews. During that storm, when home delivery was impossible, the newspaper activated its Web site for the first time.

In 1996, I lived at the end of a long cul-de-sac, with a small hill. Snow plows couldn’t reach us, so the neighbors pitched in to shovel snow. Nevertheless, we were stuck. The way out was impassable. On the third day, the city of Westminster sent in a big snowplow to plow us out. The snowplow got stuck in front of my house. I’m not making this up. The city had to send a bulldozer to free the snowplow.

Carroll County and Frederick County and points west make up the snow belt in Maryland. Folks out there are going to get buried this weekend. Two feet or more snow in the mountains of Western Maryland, and 18 inches to two feet in Frederick and Carroll. Same thing for the entire Baltimore and Washington region, 18 inches to two feet.

Most of the Eastern Shore might get enough snow for a white Christmas, one to four inches. Here in Ocean City and Worcester County, in the far southeastern corner of Maryland, we’re looking at very little snow.  Snow Hill might get enough for a white Christmas. But I believe we’re more likely to have rain than snow in OC.  The sky certainly looked like snow all day, but I’ve been thinking it’s not cold enough for snow here.

A bank sign on the Coastal Highway said 43 degrees at 3 p.m. On the coast, the warmer ocean water provides a moderating influence for weather. It’s usually colder on the interior of the Shore.

In West Ocean City after dark, the bank sign said 36 degrees. At 8 p.m., the television reported 37 degrees in Ocean  City. The thermometer on my back porch in West Ocean City read 32 degrees at 8 p.m. About an hour later, it’s up to 35.  The ground isn’t frozen. In other words, it’s cold enough for snow, but just barely. And if we have any snow in OC, it will melt when it hits the ground. That’s my prediction. Saturday’s high temp will be nearly 40 degrees.

But snow is only part of the weather equation on the coast. In Worcester County, we have a gale warning, coastal flood warning, and high surf advisory for Saturday. High tides will be around 9:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday.

Winds are expected to top out at 25 to 35 mph on Saturday, not nearly as high as in the November storm. The major concern is beach erosion, following the erosion in November. Fortunately, this winter storm won’t be pounding the coast for an extended period. By Sunday afternoon, our snow, if any, will be over. — John Hayden

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