The biggest snowfall in four years blanketed the Baltimore area Thursday with up to a foot and a half of snow, giving many schoolchildren two more days off and stranding residents and travelers. As the region dug out, two men died after shoveling.

In Howard County, two men suffered suspected heart attacks as they shoveled, prompting local officials to urge residents to take it easy clearing snow made heavy by periods of rain.

Many flights were canceled and many roads were impassable for part of the day. At least five people in Anne Arundel County were taken to hospitals, including two to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, after traffic accidents.

Most activities around the state — besides shoveling and sledding — came to a halt, with schools and government offices closed amid a boom of teleworking. Meanwhile, some businesses tried to take advantage of cabin fever. One restaurateur gave customers rides to his diner; a brew pub offered free beer.

The storm could become one of the region's biggest single-day snowfalls on record once Thursday night's accumulation is measured. And there will be little rest for the weary: More snow is forecast for early Saturday.

Some Friday closures were announced Thursday. Baltimore and Harford counties planned to open offices late. School districts in the city and in Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Anne Arundel counties said they would close. Howard schools' students were already scheduled to be off Friday.

For some, it is one more blow in a winter that has been one of the coldest and snowiest in years.

"It's pretty tough, I mean compared to last year," said Reservoir Hill resident Donald Williams as he dug out his car to go somewhere — anywhere. "This year it's always something, isn't it?"

Despite concerns that heavy snow and gusting winds would keep utility crews busy Thursday, few power outages were reported across the region. Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said a lack of freezing rain and icy conditions helped prevent outages.

Just under 2,000 customers statewide were without power as of 7 a.m. Friday, according to state emergency management officials, with about a quarter of those in Baltimore County.

State and local governments geared up for the event. The State Highway Administration used nearly 2,800 plows and other snow-removal equipment, while 500 members of the Maryland National Guard and 150 additional state police officers were on duty to respond to calls for assistance, Gov. Martin O'Malley said.

Transportation officials and drivers reported relatively clear conditions on main roads by Thursday morning, including Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake reporting 90 percent of city arteries cleared by 11 a.m.

Some residents nevertheless took advantage of alternative modes of transportation, from snowshoes to dog-powered sleds.

"The skis are waxed," said Steve Bickling as he trekked through Canton on cross country skis. "It's not ideal, but it's enough fun to get out and get some exercise."

The storm arrived Wednesday night an hour or two earlier than expected with an intensity on the higher end of the range meteorologists had predicted. With snow falling at up to 3 inches per hour overnight, the region awoke to more than 6 inches and in some cases a foot of heavy, wet snow.

At Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, slightly more than a foot was measured by 7 a.m. It was the first time snowfall had surpassed the 12-inch mark at the airport since Feb. 10, 2010, on the tail end of the back-to-back storms that became known as "Snowmageddon."

With more snow falling as a second wave of cold air and moisture whipped through the region Thursday night, the storm was near the record snowfall for Feb. 13 of 15.5 inches, a mark set in 1899. The 19th-century storm ranked as the 10th-snowiest single day on record in Baltimore.

Snow totals Thursday morning ranged from 19 inches in Glyndon to 16 inches in Westminster, 15 inches in Columbia, 13.5 inches in Oella, a foot in Bel Air and 9.5 inches in West Baltimore.

But a warming trend could be on its way, with high temperatures flirting with 60 degrees in the 10-day forecast.

"We're anticipating another 2 to 3 inches of snow Saturday, and hopefully we'll get above freezing after that," said Ken Mallette, executive director of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.