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Eastern Snowstorm Forces Airports Closed

February 16, 2003

Churches canceled services and at least two major airports shut down Sunday as one of the worst storms of the season blew heavy snow along the Ohio Valley and into the mid-Atlantic states. More than 2 feet of snow was forecast for Virginia.

Highway departments across the region struggled to keep up with the snow and ice that glazed the roadways.

``This is looking like the largest storm this year, and it may be one of the top five in our recorded history,″ said Lora Rakowski of Maryland’s Highway Administration. ``You name a place, they’ve got snow _ and a lot of it.″

At least four deaths had been blamed on the weather since the snow began piling up across the Plains on Friday and Saturday.

The snow was part of a huge storm system that also produced thunderstorms in the South and at least one tornado that caused slight damage early Sunday in northern Florida. Tennessee got more than 7 inches of rain Friday and Saturday, and southern parts of West Virginia and Virginia had road flooding and ice that snapped tree limbs and power lines.

Radar showed snow falling Sunday from Missouri to New Jersey, with flakes coming down at a rate of up to 4 inches an hour in parts of Maryland. Forecasts ranged from a foot of snow by late Monday in Rhode Island and Massachusetts to 20 inches in New Jersey and 2 feet in Maryland and northern Virginia.

The National Weather Service forecast up to 3 feet of snow in West Virginia’s most mountainous counties.

The Washington area’s Baltimore-Washington International and Reagan National airports were closed until further notice. Crews at Baltimore-Washington couldn’t keep up with the snow falling on the airport’s two runways, said spokesman John White. Dulles International Airport remained open but numerous flights were canceled.

Snowflakes in the Washington area were whipped by wind gusting up to 20 mph, and temperatures were in the teens, while the streets were quiet but for the sounds of clanging shovels and spinning tires. The snow was forecast to continue into Monday _ a day government workers already had off to observe President’s Day.

Hospitals in northern Virginia and Maryland asked for volunteers with four-wheel-drive vehicles to help employees get to and from work.

``I’m already getting calls from employees about tomorrow,″ said Patty Burch, clinical coordinator at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital in Fairfax, Va.

``It’s very nerve-racking out there, because you can’t even find the road,″ said Merrie Street, a spokeswoman for the Harford County, Md., emergency center.

Maryland’s state highway department had its entire force of road-clearing crews _ more than 2,100 vehicles _ on the job Sunday morning, Rakowski said.

``This is the 14th storm we’ve had in 12 weeks,″ Philadelphia Managing Director Philip R. Goldsmith said Sunday. ``Our folks have worked hard, and they’re going to be working hard in the next couple of days.″

To the west, Sunday church services were canceled in towns throughout Kentucky, where most major highways were ice-covered. Several rivers in Eastern Kentucky were just over flood level, according to the weather service.

Churches also canceled services in southern and central Ohio, where up to 8 inches of snow fell. Libraries and community centers closed for the day, community groups postponed meetings and counties asked people to stay off the roads.

The snow blew east out of the Plains on Saturday, with 11 to 14 inches of snow falling around Omaha, Neb., and Des Moines, Iowa.

The snow stranded travelers Saturday in parts of Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois, including about 300 people stuck overnight at Omaha’s Greyhound bus depot.

``From now on, I’m going to take my chances on the friendly skies,″ said bus traveler Sharron Christian of Chicago.

The weather-related deaths included two in Illinois, one in Nebraska, and one person killed in Iowa when an Amtrak train slammed into a car stuck on the tracks in drifting snow west of Danville.