Early Snow Hits Md., Va. Mountains

Flakes rather than foliage greet Grace McMann of Locust Grove, Va., left, and friends Pat and Bob Gay of Florida at the closed entrance to Skyline Drive.
Flakes rather than foliage greet Grace McMann of Locust Grove, Va., left, and friends Pat and Bob Gay of Florida at the closed entrance to Skyline Drive. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The slow-moving storm that drenched the Washington region with rain yesterday also dumped the season's first snow on the mountains of Western Maryland and Virginia, snapping the branches of trees still in leaf and cutting off power to thousands of residents.

The storm was worst in Garrett County, the westernmost county in Maryland, where the average elevation is 2,500 feet. A meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Pittsburgh said the county was covered by 8 to 12 inches of snow.

The early snowstorm left 11,500 Allegheny Power customers in the county without electricity, said Allen Staggers, a spokesman for the company. That accounted for 60 percent of its customers in the county of 30,000 residents.

The storm's effects were much milder to the east, where lower elevations and warmer air turned the snow to rain. In Washington, yesterday's rainfall broke an October record set in 1937, reaching 9.79 inches for the month by 2 p.m., said Steven Zubrick, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's office in Sterling. The previous record was 8.82 inches. The wettest October on record followed the driest September: Last month, 0.1 inch of rain fell.

Zubrick said a light snowfall coated the westernmost parts of Loudoun County in Virginia as well, and Skyline Drive, a scenic route in Shenandoah National Park that can be treacherous in the snow, was closed.

Zubrick said the weather extremes should not be given too much significance.

"I don't think that foretells anything about what the future winter will hold," he said.

Local officials and meteorologists said the storm struck power lines in Garrett County so hard because the snow fell on trees that had not yet lost their autumn leaves. Instead of falling on the ground, the wet snow fell on the leaves, weighing down tree branches so heavily that they broke, sometimes falling onto power lines or roads.

Allegheny Power has called in extra crews and should have power fully restored by Friday, Staggers said.

Brad Frantz, director of emergency management for Garrett, said the county put its snow emergency plan into effect. The county government was closed yesterday, and its main building in Oakland had no power. Frantz reported numerous calls about transformer fires and said "everyone who can run a chainsaw" was working to clear fallen branches.

The main roads were mostly unaffected, the ground not being cold enough to allow the snow to accumulate, Frantz said. Nonetheless, the county was hit hard, with a dozen people staying at two county shelters, he said.

"It's not unusual to see some snow in late October, but to get a storm of this magnitude is rare," Frantz said.

The weather was a break for the county's black bears, who became the target of the state hunting season Monday. Paul Peditto, director of the Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service, said yesterday afternoon that the day's hunt netted only two of the animals, down from 15 Monday.

"It's certainly not ideal conditions for people," Peditto said in a telephone interview from the wildlife management station at Mount Nebo, where game workers were using a wood stove to heat the building.

It also put a stop to the "Think Bigger Express" of Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), who had planned to cap off a five-day tour of Maryland with a gubernatorial campaign stop in Oakland. Instead, his recreational vehicle turned around at Hagerstown, well short of his final goal.

"Can't imagine the RV on mountain roads in 15 inches of snow," spokeswoman Jody Couser wrote in an e-mail, saying stops in Allegany and Garrett counties would be rescheduled.

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