Maryland battles strongest winter storm to hit the state in years

Stay home unless it’s an emergency.

That is the message state and local leaders are sending to residents Thursday as Maryland deals with the largest snow storm to hit the state in four years. ABC2 News is forecasting that parts of the state, especially north and west of Baltimore could get hit with up to a foot of snow.

Already, schools, many businesses and most government agencies are closed after Gov. Martin O’Malley declared a state of emergency . This includes state government and the General Assembly, which canceled all hearings, briefings and meetings on Thursday.

By declaring a state of emergency, O'Malley can authorize up to 250 soldiers and airmen of the Maryland National Guard and Maryland Defense Force on state active duty for possible severe winter weather response operations.

In previous snowstorms, the Maryland Guard and the Maryland Defense Force missions have included assisting stranded motorists, working with local law enforcement and firefighters with transportation and evacuation, distribution of supplies and search and rescue.

Also of concerns in this storm has been travel from the roads to rail to the air.

Many passengers are now stranded at the airport as thousands of flights have been canceled  nationwide. At BWI, most flights scheduled for today are grounded for the foreseeable future. Only a few flights coming in or heading out west or to parts of the south like Florida and Texas are actually on time. If you do have a flight today, airport officials are warning passengers to be sure to check with your airline first or visit the BWI website .

This winter storm has also prompted Baltimore City officials to extend the code blue through at least Thursday. This means emergency shelters are open and are being staffed longer.

Baltimore City officials said it has used more than 35,000 tons of salt so far this winter and emergency crews are on standby as this storm barrels through.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is warning people living in the city to stay safe.

In Anne Arundel County, officials reported at 12:30 p.m. there were seven accidents with five people transported to the hospital since the start of the storm,

The cost for removing all this snow reaches well into the millions of dollars. Entering today, Baltimore City has spent more than $4.5 million for snow removal. In addition, Baltimore County has spent $10 million, Harford County $1.4 million, Carroll County $1.6 million and Howard $2.4 million for similar operations.

All jurisdictions are asking residents to be patient as O’Malley is calling this storm a “24-hour weather event.” While road crews will be working around the clock plowing snow, the priority will be on main roads first with side roads coming after that.

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