By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Jan. 11, 2018) Officials said last week’s blizzard and deep cold spell combined to produce was one of the worst winter storms in decades, and perhaps since the 1970s.
Heavy snow last Wednesday night and Thursday morning left more than a foot of snow in some areas locally causing dozens of traffic accidents.
Making matters worse, temperatures were consistently in the teens and lower, with heavy winds and wind-chills often below zero. Several water main breaks were reported in Berlin, Pocomoke and Snow Hill.
According to an official from the Maryland State Police Berlin Barrack, police responded to 109 disabled vehicles and 25 accidents between the start of the storm until Monday morning.
Snow Hill Mayor Charlie Dorman on Monday said the town received an estimated 13 inches of snow.
“We’re still digging,” he said. “Our biggest problem is the small downtown.”
He added that about 40 dump-truck loads of the white stuff were hauled out, but the town had reached a point where there was no place to put it.
Dorman said Maryland State Highway workers helped clear Route 12, but most work in town was done by six public works employees during 12-hour shifts.
“Public works and the sewer plant work together … to remove the snow,” he said. “They’re phenomenal. A few live way down in the Eastern Shore of Virginia and they make it here every day. It’s just incredible the amount of work they do and they never complain – just keep on digging.”
Dorman said a water main broke Sunday night at Heather Manor, an assisted-living facility on Washington Street.
“Pretty sure they had to evacuate those people because it took out their sprinkler system,” he said. “Other than that, around town, no [other major incidents occurred].”
Pocomoke City Manager Bobby Cowger said about nine inches of snow fell there.
“But, in about half a dozen different areas around town … we had two to three feet of snow drifts that blocked about four or five of our streets,” he said. “That took a tremendous amount of clearing to get those cleared out and get the snow moved out of the way.”
Cowger said a water main broke at the Butler Village apartment complex Sunday.
“They had some overhead sprinklers in one of the back units, and the sprinklers froze and busted and saturated about two or three units there,” he said. “The people had to go stay with other people, but I did hear some of them had to go stay at the Holiday Inn.”
As was the case in Snow Hill, a small public works staff handled most of the snow removal, with Cowger pitching in to help clear roadways.
“They certainly weren’t equipped to handle this amount of snow very fast,” he said. “We worked Thursday for about 14 hours before I sent the boys home to get some sleep. Friday we worked about 14 hours. Saturday we came back and finished up and worked about 12 hours.
“I stayed out there with them boys the whole time – I didn’t leave them,” he added. “But, I’ve done this work for 30 years. It wasn’t a big deal to me, but they needed the help because they were definitely understaffed for this much snow.”
He said the city was “fairly passable” by Saturday night, but crews had to come back to address another broken water main on Sunday.
“I thought the guys would be able to relax and enjoy Sunday, but I had to get them back out for about six hours because of the busted, six-inch water main on Princess Anne Lane, between 14th and 15th streets,” he said.
Other than water mains, Cowger said battling large snow drifts of several feet was the biggest obstacle. He said it was the worst winter storm since at least the 1990s.
“We don’t remember anything [as severe] prior back to about the ’90s. We’ve had little snows, but nothing as much as this at one time,” he said.
Berlin Mayor Gee Williams said Monday that between eight and 11 inches of snow fell in Berlin.
“It’s hard to know because the drifting was so severe,” he said. “Literally, on some streets you go and the front of the house has 18, 24 inches and the back might only have six. How much was wind and how much was actual snowfall, I’m not sure.
“It is, so far, I think the longest snow to stick around since I think the mid-1970s,” he continued. “We’ve had some big snow since then, but I don’t think it was this cold and this persistent – that has been the challenge with this particular storm — the length and the intense low temperatures.”
Williams said major water mains broke on Jefferson Street and Franklin Avenue over the weekend.
He said public works staff were plowing roads and addressing the breakages beginning Wednesday night and worked well into Monday.
“This is the beginning of the sixth [straight] day,” he said. “Never, at least in my experience, have we had that many multiple days of intense snow removal and related work.
“In terms of personnel, I think their dedication has been truly inspiring,” Williams added. “I think they’ve done everything that could be asked and more than should be expected, and they have done it with a positive attitude and, I think, a shared feeling of pride. That’s something you can’t purchase – it’s something people carry with them.”
Berlin Police Lt. J.D. Lawson, based on a National Weather Service report, said 16 inches of snowfall was accompanied by 30-50 mile-per-hour winds and sub-zero wind-chill temperatures.
“Throughout the storm, our personnel worked in the severe weather conditions and experienced near zero visibility in the blinding snowfall,” Lawson said in a statement on Monday.
He said police fielded numerous calls from people in need, including six people found stuck after driving into snowdrifts. He said police assisted one vehicle with two elderly people on Route 818 north of Route 50, two vehicles south of Route 50 on Route 818 and three vehicles near the middle school on Flower Street.
“After becoming stranded, the wind continued to blow snow, which became deeper around their vehicles, making their situation … an emergency,” he said.
When the State Highway Administration told police no equipment was available and Worcester County Roads crews also could not help, Lawson said Berlin Police used a five-ton truck to “drive into the deep snow drifts and [remove] the stranded motorists.”
“All of these persons who were in dire need of assistance could not have been helped without the military surplus equipment that the Berlin Police Department maintains,” Lawson said. “Every one of our vehicles on the road during the storm became stuck at one point or another.”
Lawson said Berlin Police also assisted two wedged Worcester County Sheriff vehicles and “numerous Maryland State Police Vehicles that became stuck in the snow.”
“Additionally, during this event, our personnel worked very closely with public works to accomplish our missions,” Lawson said.” I would like to especially thank [Wastewater Superintendent] Jamie Latchum, who continuously worked with our personnel and was of great assistance. “During this event, our agency assisted 26 citizens and motorists, 12 calls to assist other agencies and handled numerous non-storm related calls for service.”
He also thanked Lt. Robert Fisher, Cpl. Merle Bragg and S/O [special officers] Brian Hirshman, Joe Kerr and Aaron Titerence.
Ocean Pines Police reported 35 disabled vehicles, four car accidents and eight calls to assist other agencies during the storm and its aftermath.
According to Ocean Pines Public Works Director Eddie Wells, the association saw 11 inches of snow.
“Colder temps made it difficult for the salt to do its magic,” Wells said. “This week’s projected milder temperatures should help to melt the existing snow along roadways in Ocean Pines.”
Wells said public works plowed all roads in the community and will go over some streets again. If elderly or sick residents need assistance, he encouraged them to contact public works.
Temperatures this week were expected to be much warmer, with highs topping 50 degrees, according to National Weather Service projections.