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Baltimore County Now

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Keyword: snowfighter

photo of snowy sceneMark Hubbard, Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management

For as long as I can remember, the weather services used human names for hurricanes.  If you are unlucky enough to have one of those names (Agnes, Isabel, Katrina, Floyd, Horatio etc.) you may be branded with the image of tragedy and destruction.

When it came to other severe weather, like tornadoes, we usually refer to the storm by the name of the town most severely impacted and perhaps the severity rating on the Fujita scale.  Example: " That F5 tornado that struck Smallville."

Since the inception of 24/7 news coverage that included severe weather television and radio channels devoted purely to weather news, a new phenomena is emerging – the effort to brand other storms, in particular, winter storms, as well. For example, the President's Day storm of.........; the Valentines day storm of....... and so on.  Broadcast news also likes to use bold character graphics in the news cast:  Blizzard of 2010, etc.  If you ask me, this only magnifies the stress we often experience when preparing for and suffering through these storms.

But perhaps there is a purpose to all of this. Consider a system where we used a scientific-like numbering system.  So perhaps instead of referring to Hurricane Isabel by name, we instead said Hurricane #2003-6.  Somehow, this generic label simply does not seem to fit.  So maybe it is not so crazy to now see many other severe weather events given a human name.  Branding a storm does somehow seem to add character and  identity – almost a personality. In the case of winter storms, The Weather Channel has decided to name this winter’s storms after Greek mythology icons like Atlas, Boreas (Greek god of the cold north wind), Electra, Hercules, Ion, Janus and Titan.

The February 12th storm is called Pax, the Latin word for peace. Let’s hope it’s an appropriate name and that we don’t make it all the way to Zephyr this year!

Take a look at what the Weather Channel had to say about it. And, oh, how we love our brands! So let's just roll with it for now. Otherwise, imagine a world without Coke or Pepsi.  It would seem a bit flat (pun intended) if we knew them just as Cola #1 and Cola #2. (You figure out which is which!)   

Regardless of what we call them, winter storms are worthy of respect and caution. So, everyone please remember to exercise common sense at home and on the roads, and keep up with Baltimore County’s winter storm operations at  www.baltimorecountymd.gov/snow and on Twitter at @BACOemergency.


graphic drawing of a snow plowJim Lathe
Baltimore County Chief of Highways

Everybody’s curious about the price tag. How much does it cost to plow the roads and keep them open every winter?

In Baltimore County, when there’s a hint of snow – when the weather person says there’s a chance for precip tomorrow – we, in the Bureau of Highways, Department of Public Works, begin looking very carefully at the bottom line. Because as soon as the word goes out that we’ve got snow duty – that we’re on the clock – we’re on the meter too.

This year we expect that plowing snow (that’s with a staff of 400 employees manning three hundred trucks working from 11 shops) will cost more than $37,000 per hour. And when we put down salt, that price goes up to $108,000 per hour. That’s because salt costs more than $50 a ton and we stock about 50,000 tons at 14 locations across the county.

Sunday’s storm cost the County $1.4 million. We’re still tabulating the expenses related yesterday’s snow and will post the total shortly.

It’s expensive, of course, but the total cost to keep the streets clear and safe varies wildly from year to year. Last year was an economical year for us. Baltimore County spent a little under $4 million to call out crews, to salt and to plow for 13 storms – many of them just dustings. But “Snowmageddon” back in 2010 was more than five times as expensive. The bills came to $20 million. Snow accumulation that winter was estimated at seven feet!

For a complete picture, take a look at our website for a listing of storm costs since Fiscal Year 2001.

During the past 13 years the cost has gone from a low of $2 million (when accumulation was a mere six inches in 2002) to the colossal winter four years ago. The average is about $7 million. But whatever the cost, you can rest assured that Baltimore County's Highway crews will give it our all to keep the streets open this year.


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