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December 10, 2010

Light snow causing numerous accidents


A surprise snow squall was causing numerous accidents in Central Maryland at mid-day Friday as light accumulations created slippery conditions on some roadways.

Baltimore County Police reported one person with "life-threatening injuries" after an accident on Jarrettsville Pike in Jacksonville, between Stansbury Mill and Manor roads.

"A bread truck truck and a passenger car were involved," said police spokeswoman Louise Rogers-Feher. But she had no further information on the accident, which occurred shortly after 1 p.m.

Police counted 21 more crashes around Baltimore County, most of them in the Cockeysville and Franklin precincts. There were some injuries, Rogers-Feher said, "but nothing major."

The storm slicked roads in Carroll County, too, police said.

"We have dozens of accidents right now," said Sgt. Alfred A "Andy" Eways, at the Westminster barracks of the Maryland State Police. "Fortunately, right now, it appears everything at this point is property damage."

"We also have numerous disabled vehicles, either getting stuck or skidding into ditches," Eways said.

Salt trucks were dispatched around noontime, but Eways said, "We would encourage anybody who doesn't have an absolute need to be driving in Carroll County not to."

The State Highway Administration's CHART system was reporting four collisions on I-70 from Washington County to Howard County. A tractor-trailer overturned on I-270 in Montgomery County. There were no immediate reports of injuries. Vehicles were pulling to the side of the road because of slippery conditions on I-68 in Cumberland.

SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar said that in many cases drivers moving at speeds better suited for dry conditions.

"What we're trying to do is get folks to slow down a little for the conditions," he said. "The speed limit is set for ideal conditions, and when they're not ideal, you have to slow down."

Traffic cameras showed clear pavement, but with some snowy patches, at I-70 and U.S. 29 in Howard County, as well as at I-70 and I-270 in Frederick.

State highway officials said salt trucks were sent out, but the roads were not pre-treated because the forecast had called only for flurries.

Howard Silverman, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., said reports received there indicated no more than a few tenths of an inch of snow.

"It hasn't been a consistent, widespread band of accumulating snow, but there are consistent flurries moving across Virginia and Maryland," he said. "But with temperatures right around freezing, that's not to say it's not capable of creating slippery conditions, and it has been. But it's not a lot of snow."

The possibility of snow today, and its potential impacts, had been discussed by meteorologists, Silverman said. "It was not off the probabilities. But it was not a definite forecast, either."

Temperatures have been well below average in recent days, he noted, and that has probably cooled pavement temperatures and contributed to the traffic problems.

The little storm was expected to pass by after an hour or two, leaving no more than a dusting, Silverman said. "But that's about all it takes."


Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:49 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Winter weather


Snow!? That wasn't snow! These accidents are most likely the result of the usual MaryLand CFD Syndrome.
Can't Freakin' Drive.

A few tenths of an inch of snow and people still can't handle it. People just don't understand that you have to slow down in snow. No matter how light the snow is, the roads still get slick. You see people driving the same as if it was sunny and warm when it's freezing and the roads are slick. Is your life that important that you can put everyone else driving in jeopardy because your late or in a hurry? The reason most snow accidents occur is because people dont' understand that they actually have to slow down.

OMG! Snow? OMG! Snow! OMG! SNOW!
Repeat until April.

I agree that many people just don't know how to drive in snow, even a light dusting like we had today. But I think some of the blame goes to the state of Maryland for not dispatching salt trucks earlier. I've been driving in snow for close to 40 years and I can handle myself. But when you are traveling at 10 to 15 miles per hour (maybe even less) and your car begins sliding sideways, or you can't stop to make the turn into your driveway (I experienced both today), the problem lies with the road conditions.

In defense of some of those drivers, it WAS slick in places. I grew up, lived in and drove in the Rocky Mountains for 40 years, and I know how to drive in snow. But this was a fine textured snow that landed on roads where the temp was below freezing, and it made a slick layer with little traction. Not enough snow to compact and get traction on, just enough to grease the roads.

I slipped and slid a bit on my way to my lunch date, but also left enough room between me and other drivers to not be in danger. It *was* surprisingly slippery.

It's also because spending $HUGE on an oversize, overweight SUV means you don't have to worry about anything -- including how to drive -- because "everybody knows" that SUV's are safe-safe-safe.

Why slow down -- or even bother to learn how your vehicle handles -- when you paid all that money to be safe-safe-safe. Neither the motor vehicle laws nor the laws of physics apply when your vehicle is "safe".

The problem appears to be that, because the temps have been below freezing at night, and it never got above freezing here in Baltimore County, the snow has flash-frozen to a lot of the streets. It's not just "slick"; the snow has turned into a thin sheen of ice.

Yes, the salt trucks should have been out sooner. But why send the trucks out when the forecast isn't calling for accumulations until half-an-hour before it actually hits? I was seeing forecasts for "snow showers" all the way up until the snow was actually sticking on our grass.

Fault lies as much with the forecasters as anyone. That's the weak link in this logistical nightmare this time.

I beg to differ I was on the roads ( 80, 270, I-70)in Frederick and it took me 2 hours to go about 15 miles from Frederick to Mt Airy. It was a nightmare, no freaky fridays here, but BLACK ICE and SLICK ROADS not pre-treated by the salt trucks, and no way Emergency vehicles could reach them.

Logistical nightmare? Really? Most sane people who know how to drive in ice and snow do as follows:

1.) Check road conditions BEFORE you drive and DO NOT DRIVE if they are bad.
2.) If you are driving and conditions worsen, get off the road. NOW!
3.) Stop blaming everyone else for your laqck of common sense.

I came down here from Jersy 22 years ago. I can tell you MD has te worst drivers I've ever seen. This is proved by Allstate insurance study finding MD drivers the worst only 2nd to DC drivers. Should put on license plates "demolitiion derby state"

FR: Actually, the Allstate study says it's Baltimore - not the entire state of Maryland - that ranks second-worst to Washington. The study compares accident rates in 192 cities. Here's a link:

I took back roads to get from Hampstead to Westminster and it took 2 hours. My friend took main roads and it took her 4 hours. It is normally only a 15 minute drive. I had my 4 wheel drive SUV in 1st gear, going 5 MPH and I still fishtailed down hills. If a car had been coming in the other direction, there would have been no way to avoid a wreck. It was just exceptionally slippery today, probably due to the cold roads. I was glad to get home!

I HAD to run out today but waited for the snow to stop thinking I'd give the road crews a chance to at least put some sand down. As a NH native that just moved from Southern NH were MASSholes reign the roads to Jefferson, I can't say I'm impressed by either the drivers here in Maryland ( fair or poor weather drivers) or the snow emergency plans for the roads. At least the aggressive MA drivers understand about snow.

FR: As someone who has lived and worked in Syracuse, NY, Hanover, NH and New Bedford, MA, I have mastered snow, and learned to stay away from ice. But in all fairness, Maryland drivers don't get enough snow to master it, and it makes no sense for communities here to finance the equipment and manpower needed to do handle snow the way Syracuse does. So some of us slip and slide. The rest grouse about them.


It's not just Maryland drivers.

In the early 1980s, I lived in Alexandria, VA and worked in downtown DC. One Saturday I was crossing the 14th St. Bridge to do some OT work. A car (with Virginia tags) was several hundred feet ahead of me, and a lane over. I noticed that about every 10-15 seconds, the driver would SLAM on the brakes, then floor the accelerator, only to SLAM on the brakes again. I couldn't figure it out until I noticed, about every 10-15 seconds, a snow flake floating through the air ahead of me.

I agree with essentially all of the reader comments and disagree with the headline claim that the snow caused accidents. And generally speaking, we all know that automobile wrecks are rarely true accidents.
For example: Poor traction can contribute to a vehicle starting to skid, but a skilled driver can usually (not always) regain control. Causes of poor traction include black ice, worn tires, damp or wet pavement, dirt, mud, and oil. Even the paint and/or plastic that is used to mark the center-line and the edge of the pavement offers less friction than the pavement.
The risks of poor traction can be mitigated in many ways, including reduced speed, an action that can be taken immediately. Actions such as leaving home earlier require schedule adjustments. If you have elected to lease or rent a vehicle, you have probably passed up the opportunity to equip it with high-traction tires. The driver skills and expertise mentioned in other comments include trip and route planning, choice of tires, choice of 4wd over 2wd, attention to vehicle mechanical condition, and go vs no-go judgment. It's complicated. But snow does not cause wrecks.
Snow often causes limited visibility, but the failure of the driver to clear windows and mirrors and failure to replace wiper blades and clean the headlights. Don't forget to clear the signal, tail, and brake lights.
Consider where we live - the other driver may have rented or 'borrowed' their car, may have arrived at BWI in the past 24 hours, may be a diplomat from the tropics and may be accustomed to driving on the other side of the road (in the British tradition.) Well, that scenario may lead to a real accident.
But even in this case, the driver - or drivers - bears most of the burden of causing the wreck.
But Mr. Roylance, please don't blame the snow. Next time, try to slant the article to stress what actions drivers might take to avoid problems and get to their destinations without harm.

FR: I suppose any car wreck is the culmination of a cascade of events and decisions, some avoidable, some not, beginning with the driver's parents' decision to have a child. But without the snow, none - or certainly few - of the wrecks would have occurred. Let's call it the "precipitating" event.

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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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