Freezing Out Winter Woes

January 04, 1995

Forget Hannibal Lechter, Freddy Krueger and Godzilla. If you want to name a character who can really bring on the chills, try Old Man Winter.

The frosty curmudgeon was in a particularly foul humor on his last visit. Remember the winter of 1993-94? Try though you might, you probably can't forget the icy sidewalks that left pedestrians temporarily airborne, the slick roads that made bumper car rides out of normal commutes, the cutting winds and frigid temperatures that turned the Baltimore metropolitan area into a Deepfreeze. Notwithstanding the relative balminess of the past two months, giving even a moment's thought to the previous winter is enough to induce involuntary shudders.

No wonder folks have been taking precautions against what they fear -- but hope is not -- a recurrence of last winter's weather nightmare.

L.L. Bean, the Maine-based retailer of outdoor gear, reports that heavy sales of parkas and fleece pullovers started months ago. Snow-blowers and shovels have been hot sellers, too; Sears, Roebuck and Co. had already sold more blowers by mid-November than it had unloaded during the entire winter two years ago. At the Hechinger store in Columbia's Snowden Square, large amounts of rock salt and other ice-melting products began moving as early as last August.

Dread of Old Man Winter has likewise inspired local government officials to make special preparations. The Howard County police department, aiming to prevent a repeat of the rash of police vehicle accidents caused by last winter's treacherous roads, has put its current recruit class through auto training at a "skid course." Department officials wisely took action after noting that nearly half of all the police accidents in 1994 happened between last January and March, when officers and civilians alike were having trouble negotiating slippery roadways. And in neighboring Baltimore County, where government officials did a poor job of handling snow and ice emergencies during the past two winters, four new storage facilities have increased the jurisdiction's salt capacity threefold, from 8,000 to 24,000 tons.

All these preparations could be for naught if weather experts prove right in predicting a 1994-95 winter milder than the last. Yet the scary lesson of a year ago can't be ignored: Better to be ready than to find yourself walking on thin ice.

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