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February 26, 2010

Snow buries Garrett; I-68 may be closed again

Two feet of fresh snow and high winds made Garrett County roads dangerous and all but impassable Friday. Emergency managers there have reimposed a local state of emergency they had finally lifted on Tuesday, two and a half weeks after the February storms began.

Plows cannot keep ahead of fresh fallen and drifting snow, officials said, and emergency crews are busy clearing a second multi-car pileup, with numerous injuries, on Interstate 68.

"I-68 is not closed, but we are telling people, if you don't have to be out in this, don't bother coming out. These are blizzard conditions. They will travel at their own risk," said Sgt. James Hare, at the McHenry Barracks of the Maryland State Police.NOAA

While I-68 is not officialy closed, he said, eastbound traffic at 2:30 p.m. remained stopped just east of the Garrett/Allegany County line due to an accident that occurred around 11 a.m. today. "Travel is almost impossible there."

UPDATE: 3:30 p.m.: The State Highway Administration said I-68 is open in both directions, all lanes. Conditions are "improving, but hazardous."

County officials said the snow has been extraordinary, even for Garrett. "I've been in public safety for 35 years, and I've never seen storms one after another, with the cumulative effect being like this," said Brad Frantz, Garrett's director of emergency management.

"Road conditions are bad," he said. "So we are strongly urging folks to not travel in Garrett County right now. The roads are basically impassable. I'm pushing hard for Interstate 68 to be shut back down, and anybody who tries to travel will have to get on alternate routes, and those will be worse."

The National Weather Service is predicting another 10 to 20 inches of snow at McHenry through Saturday.

The State Highway Administration issued a statement warning of poor driving conditions in Garrett and western Allegany counties.

"Travel conditions are extremely hazardous ... causing major travel issues along Interstate 68 and US 40 west of Cumberland," officials said. "SHA maintenance crews continue to plow roads in the area, although the heavy snow and high winds are causing major delays and hazardous conditions."

WISP resortOrganizers of the "Deep Creek Dunk," a fund-raiser for the Special Olympics scheduled for Saturday in McHenry, are urging people not to attempt to make the drive because of the poor road conditions in Garrett County. Participants already in town were invited to take part in the dunk, at 2 p.m., and "scaled-back" festivities afterwards.

I-68 was closed for several hours Thursday afternoon after a 15-car pileup near Finzel, at the Garrett/Allegany County line. Five people were transported to area hospitals.

"Now it has opened back up, and shortly after we had another multi-casualty" incident, Frantz said. "We are still working that one ... The last I heard is that we had some entrapment with that."

Frantz said he had just finished a conference call with the National Weather Service. "We had one report of 23 inches of new snow," he said. "That's on top of what we already had. We are probably close to 250 inches of snow for the year now... more than 20 feet.

Even for snow-savvy Garrett County, Frantz said, "This is way beyond normal."I-68 at US 219 near Grantsville

"County roads are impassable. Plows are not able to plow. They basically can't keep up. They're blowing shut as soon as they open them. They are trying to keep major arteries open and having limited success. The more rural routes, they are getting to them as they can."

During an earlier storm, fire fighters were unable to reach a house fire, and the home was "a total loss," he said. No one was injured. "Pretty much any fire or EMS incident we're sending a plow truck ahead of it on the assumption that most areas are not accessible right now."

"The other issue that's brewing here is there is over 10 inches of water equivalent on the ground," Frantz said.  "When this thaws, it will be like getting a 10-inch rainstorm. If it goes all at once, the next thing you will be calling me about is the floods."

Garrett isn't alone, Frantz said. "To our west in West Virginia, they are having some of the same issues, and somewhat to the east. The western end of Allegany County is just about on the same level with us. From Cumberland east it slacks off. That's normally the case. Being on the Allegheny Plateau, everything gets hung up here."

The brutal weather is taking its toll. "Fire, EMS, 911, the county and state highway folks are doing a tremendous job, but it's starting to build up," Frantz said. There have been some equipment failures, and municipalites have been hurt further by sharp cuts in funding to local government from state highway user funds - the gasoline tax.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:09 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Winter weather


Frank, thanks for the timely update on what our friends to the west are dealing with.

Just wanted to say "Hi" from Garrett County. The snow is so deep that my son and I had to plow out the back door because when we opened the front door, we ended up having an avalanche come in the front door! The conditions here are horrendous, even the famous 24 hour Wal-Mart has closed it's doors for the first time in almost 10 yrs. When my son and I went out, we made our way around to the front of the house. We dug our way up to the porch, stood on the railing, and jumped off! Our porch railing is approximately 7 1/2 feet from the ground. The snow was even with the railings! It was a lot of fun and an experience that my 8 year old will not soon forget. So, at least this storm brought happy memories for someone.

I was born and grew up in Garrett County. I have since moved to Baltimore for a better job. I'm now 24 years old and haven't seen my mother since Christmas, this week I planned on my new girlfriend and myself going home to ride my snowmobile and hit the slopes. My own mother said NO! Even Wisp is CLOSED (according to intel from prior employees at the resort). Folks even the ski resort isn't operational with all this snow. Definitely a record winter to watch!

FR: Wisp marketing folks said this morning they are open, and the parking lot was filling up. Still probably not a good idea to drive up there.

FR: Just received this from Cindy Stacey, in Garrett:

"The snow is epic here. I’ll attempt tomorrow (Sat.) to snowshoe out from our farm lane to county road to take some digital photos for you.
It’s so windy, drifts are so high and white outs so bad, I can’t venture out today. But I really [want] to get some pix of this monster storm.

"Thanks for the great Garrett weather report. Since rest of state isn’t too bad, I didn’t think many folks realized how bad it is here today. Thanks to you, now they do!"

Previous info stated by Swartzie that Wisp is closed is incorrect! Wisp is open. However, the county is in a state of emergency. If you don't need to be out don't The last thing we need here in this county is stupid city folks who are clueless on how to deal with a real snow emergency! Our emergency personnel are working hard enough with real emergencies they do not need to risk themselves or others because some are too stupid to stay home! We can't even get out of our roads to get to work due to 4 ft of snow blown closing roads & some just think oh how pretty, lets go skiing! No! Stay home off the roads. I 68 is treacherous and so is 40.
Let's use common sense! Even the Dunk people are advising not to come!

WRONG!!! Wisp Resort opened on time this morning and the skiing is EPIC -

The Governor still doesn't even know where Garrett County is as he heads to Irag, on the taxpayer's dime!
A snow emergency of this magnitude, in central Maryland, would have kept him home and on TV from the State Emergency Operations Center!

I'm originally from west of Garrett County and have family north in Preston County, WV. I'm thankful to be "safer" at the moment here in the Baltimore area for lack of snowfall. However, I agree with the comment on the governer. Unless it directly affects Annapolis it is not an emergency and never has been. Garrett is not even on the map. It is wrong. This should be of more notice.

First and foremost we need to recognize the near heroic efforts of the MD SHA and Garrett County Roads Departments employees in plowing and removing the snow.
Second, it's time for the Governor to seek Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] budgetary relief for Garrett County government.
This was done for eight (8) counies in central Maryland in mid-December.
It's been one continuous storm all February up here!

Thank you for reporting about Garrett County. Many times we are forgotten. This snow is frightening!! The most that I have ever seen!!

I am originally from Terra Alta, WV right next to Oakland Md.I spoke with my mom last night, she says she opened her front door and had to look up to see daylight. She says this is worse than the storm in 1977. So stay home if at all possible.

Brace yourselves all you brave comrades in GC. Another wave is coming.

"Snow Cave 1 to Snow Cave 2.....roger Snow Cave 1....What's your status? Got electricity....How are you holding up Snow Cave 1?....electric is still anyone else out there besides us Snow Cave 2....not sure..we're working on a way to get to y...ou and join up. We have whiskey....roger Snow Cave 1....we're praying that you make it."

Thanks for letting us know what's been happening out west. The news coverage in MD really does center on the center of the state. As someone who live in Central MD, I appreciate it, but think we should have known what our fellow "mer-linders" were dealing with!

Mtn. Lake Park (Garrett Co.) - "Roof Avalanche #1" One huge approx. 8 ft. long ice and 2 feet snow came crashing down and snapped our double porch railing in two.

A couple days later: "Roof Avalanche #2" when I came home from work, I was barricaded out of my home. I couln't climb over the 3 ft. high ice and snow. I couldn't go through it, I couldn't pick it up, and I couldn't reach the snow shovels.
I got back in my car, called my husband (who was in the house) and waited until he came to the door.
It took both of us to first figure out where we are going to put it (the snow was already up to the top railing.

I will be glad when the banks are open again. Hope creditors will be understanding if payments are a little late.

I love Garrett County (in the summer)!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am also from Garrett County and live in the Baltimore area now. I agree with all of the people who say the governor forgets about Garrett County, and only declares a state of emergency when there is snow in central Maryland. I guarantee he will know where Garrett County is when it's campaign time this year, right around Autumn Glory though. He sure isn't getting my vote!!!

FR: Clue me in here. Has Garrett ever voted for a Democrat?

I usually don't comment on these sites but in this case I make an exception. It just galls me how our west-state neighbors feel slighted by the governor's trip to support our troops. Perhaps they don't raalize a trip like this takes weeks, even months, to coordinate. To cancel puts you back at the end of the line for perhaps another six month wait. As a former Soldier I can tell you the morale uplift that comes from a visit from your state governor is priceless. It puts you head and shoulders above other troops and the hundreds, maybe thousands, of Maryland troops serving in the war zone will appreciate the gesture mightily. Don't be so selfish. What more could the governor do for you if he stayed? It might be wiser to look to your local government for your much-needed assistance (if you have one). You typically receive far more snow than we in central Maryland so your plight, to most of us on the "mainland" while incredible, is not unusual. What we had to endure in a region that averages only 18 inches a year was just as incredible for us and you don't see us crying about the governor's trip. Perhaps it will make you feel better next election to vote for a governor who cares less about our troops and more about posing in the snow. I'm all about supporting our troops and you should be too!

Perhaps ex-gov Bob and Buffy would have done more for Garrett-not!

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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