Cruel ice, biting cold and now -- snow Marylanders suffer in harsh conditions

January 20, 1994|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer Staff writers Robert Hilson Jr., Melody Simmons and Laura Lippman contributed to this article.

A graphic on Page 1A in most of yesterday's editions gave the wrong low temperature recorded Wednesday in Easton. The correct low temperature was minus-8.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Marylanders have been chilled by frozen water pipes, power outages and icy roads in one of the worst cold spells of the century, and 2 to 4 inches of snow is expected today -- meaning life in the cold will continue for several more days.

Downtown Baltimore's temperature fell to 4 below zero yesterday morning, just 3 degrees away from the all-time city low set Feb. 9, 1934. Area authorities were besieged with thousands of phone calls from worried residents.


Forecasters at the National Weather Service expect a high of about 15 today along with up to 4 inches of snow in the area. Temperatures will remain in the 20s, teens and single digits throughout most of the weekend, and relief -- if it could be called that -- is expected Monday, when the temperature may hit a high in the low 40s.

"That's what we're looking forward to. Get out your suntan oil," said Vic Diener, a National Weather Service forecaster at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Temperatures dropped to 20 below zero in Cumberland yesterday. Elsewhere, it was 17 below in Easton, 6 below in Salisbury, and 8 below in Westminster and Bel Air, the weather service reported.

The bitter cold triggered another round of school closings today in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

Anne Arundel County school officials yesterday announced that

schools will be closed today and tomorrow.

Baltimore city and county schools are closed today as school officials ponder whether to close them tomorrow.

Howard County schools are closed today and will be closed Friday because of a previously scheduled staff development day.

Carroll and Harford county schools also are closed today.

Meanwhile, weather-related problems abounded yesterday in Baltimore, which recorded a high of 6 degrees. The city water department received 1,000 calls per hour for service problems. The city switchboard also got thousands of calls from citizens asking about school closings, trash pickup and salt-truck availability.

By 6:30 p.m., the AAA was telling motorists with car trouble that they were swamped with so many calls that help could not be sent before midnight.

The best advice in a cold-crippled region?

"Start a fire," says Lisa Albin, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Emergency Management Administration, which was in a stand-by mode yesterday. "We're monitoring the situation very closely, keeping a close eye on the weather and staying in touch with the power companies."

No fatalities were reported by area police agencies, although numerous minor accidents and disabled cars clogged some area roadways, state police in Pikesville reported. And in Howard County, a Columbia homeowner's effort to thaw indoor frozen pipes with a torch ended in $95,000 in damage yesterday after a flames ignited in his attic, fire and rescue officials said.

Police urged caution on area roads they described as icy, treacherous and difficult to maintain in freezing weather.

"The salt really didn't do any good, because the temperatures never got up high enough," said Sgt. Stephen R. Doarnberger, a Baltimore County police spokesman. Salt won't melt ice when the temperature hovers near zero.

Cold weather also had a chilling effect on a Baltimore County murder trial. A mistrial was declared for Richard Dean White, charged in the stabbing deaths of his estranged wife and 75-year-old mother.

The jury had been told the trial would conclude this week, but since jurors are excused when public schools are closed, the timetable became unrealistic. Circuit Judge J. William Hinkel granted a motion for mistrial from the defense, which feared the jurors might resent their longer service.

Homeless shelters throughout the area were packed with people seeking refuge. Health Care for the Homeless, an outreach program in shelters and missions in Baltimore, reported the weather has brought a steady increase in cold-related illnesses such as frostbite and hypothermia.

"I just wait and see who's not going to make it this year," said Ridge Pilcher, a registered nurse and coordinator of the program.

"We've already lost a couple of people, and we still see people every day who say, 'I'm not going to stay in a shelter, I'm not going to stay in a mission,' " she said. "They say, 'Get a bottle of Thunderbird and you stay warm.' Well, you can stay dead, because the alcohol can make you fall asleep and then you freeze to death." Area emergency rooms did not report any severe cases of exposure but were kept busy treating broken bones and pulled muscles from spills on the ice.

The Baltimore Zoo has been closed since Tuesday because of icy grounds. The animals are being kept indoors -- except for the polar bears, which frolic in arctic conditions and could wander in and out of their den. "We just have to watch out that their pool doesn't freeze," said director Brian A. Rutledge.

At the National Aquarium downtown, only the seals are kept outdoors -- and the larger gray seals were loving not only the weather yesterday but each other.

"It's their mating season," said marine mammal curator Nedra Hecker, "and they are actively breeding as we speak -- or attempting to. They have never successfully bred, but they try hard."

Some were undaunted by the cold. Members of People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) marched yesterday through downtown to protest animals being killed for their fur.

During the march, the protesters hoisted an oversized coffin containing fox, mink and rabbit fur and pulled several strings of furs tied together as they gingerly treaded on ice-covered sidewalks. While on the march, protesters urged passers-by to stop wearing their fur coats and immediately throw them away. In the single digit temperatures, no one obliged.

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