Glazed region awaits thaw

January 24, 1994|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,Staff Writer

Armed with truckloads of salt, sand and cinders, area governments were hoping for a couple of allies -- sunshine and warmer temperatures -- as they begin a final assault on frozen streets today.

Temperatures were expected to soar toward 50 degrees today and tomorrow, melting stubborn ice-choked roads and parking lots and allowing most school systems to open, if on a delayed basis, for the first time in more than a week. (Most schools outside Baltimore were closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.)

"Everything should start to melt," said Bill Miller, a forecaster with the National Weather Service at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

But if public works and highway crews are saying goodbye to the ice, they'll be saying hello to potholes -- a lot of potholes that are likely to aggravate motorists today and for some time to come.

"There are at least 1,000 potholes out there, and we'll tackle them when the streets are clear," said George G. Balog, Baltimore's public works director.

He said complete ice removal could take several days despite yesterday's dawn-to-dusk blitz by 140 plows and salt trucks that treated 75 percent of the side streets.

The remaining roadways "are just too narrow for our trucks," he said. "They're just going to have to melt."

The ice has begun a grudging retreat, Mr. Balog reported. Salt -- the city has used 10,000 tons of it in the past week -- has been the only effective weapon to date. Snowplows remain ineffective against the ice that still plagues many residential areas.

"Plowing digs up chunks of ice that just lay there," said Mr. Balog. "Every storm is unique, but in 25 years I can't remember a situation this bad, this intense."

In suburban areas, county employees worked feverishly yesterday to make side streets and school parking lots navigable.

Schools in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County were to open on time today, but those in Harford County will remain closed.

"I don't put yellow buses on slippery icy roads," Ray R. Keech, Harford's school superintendent, said last night. "We had high hopes conditions would be good, but they aren't. The back roads are still all ice."

Carroll, Howard and Baltimore counties were not ready to announce a decision last night.

"We're concerned about the 'freezing up' we'll have overnight," said R. Edward Shilling, superintendent of schools in Carroll County.

In northern Baltimore County, Hereford High School will be closed -- not because of ice, but for lack of water.

Meanwhile, officials began toting up the tab for the winter's worst storm: "Half a million dollars for Baltimore County," said Tom Hamer, the county's acting director of public works. His staff has covered streets with 7,000 tons of salt and several thousand tons more of cinders and sand in efforts to melt the ice.

"Normally we wouldn't use abrasives, some of which will find their way into the Chesapeake Bay," said Mr. Hamer. "But salt alone isn't effective in the extreme temperatures we've had.

"We're really looking forward to some sun."

The dramatic temperature changes are also playing havoc with residents' water pipes, particularly in the city, said Mr. Balog.

"We're getting 1,500 calls a day from customers with broken pipes, three times more calls than we can handle," he said.

In many cases, he said, the leaking pipes are saturating the ground and flooding basements. "This storm gave us a combination of the worst conditions I've ever seen."

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