Winds drive water away

29-mph gusts drop harbor levels 2 to 4 feet, grounding a fireboat

Marinas also affected

Phenomenon, called a `blow out' tide, expected to abate today

January 18, 2000|By Jennifer McMenamin and Tim Craig | Jennifer McMenamin and Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Fierce, gusting winds from the northwest blew the water right out of Baltimore and Annapolis harbors yesterday, leaving water levels so low a fireboat responding to a Clinton Street dock blaze last night couldn't get close enough to hose it down.

Pleasure boats at some marinas were grounded or tipped over in water levels estimated at 2 to 4 feet below normal while temperatures dipped to 18 degrees in the Baltimore metropolitan area, freezing waterlines needed to fight the fire on the Canton waterfront.

More from 60 firefighters from Baltimore City and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties battled the stubborn pier fire at Transcom Limited in the 1800 block of S. Clinton St.

At about 1 p.m., stevedores discovered the fire burning under a concrete pier built atop a crumbling wooden pier.

One fireboat was grounded by the low water, and a second was ineffective because of frozen waterlines, allowing the fire to burn out of control for more than six hours.

At 7: 30 p.m., firefighters were being forced to crouch on a makeshift barge and use hoses to get water from hydrants several hundred yards away.

No injuries were reported, although two Mass Transit Administration buses were called in to keep firefighters warm between shifts.

Transcom Limited officials would not comment on the fire.

Fire Department officials said they could not let fire burn itself out because of the proximity of large fuel and chemical tanks.

Lowest level in 50 years

In Middle River, Jack Levering of Long Beach Marine said it was the lowest water level he had seen in 50 years -- a "blow out" tide that occur after several days of sustained, northwest winds of 30 mph or more.

Levels were expected to recover by this morning, as 29 mph gusts calmed to 5 to 10 mph.

Yesterday's temperature dipped to 18 degrees at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, although blustery winds made it feel more like minus 12 degrees, said Andy Woodcock of the National Weather Service inn Sterling, Va.

High temperatures reached at 29 degrees at the airport, a day after the mercury had climbed to a springlike 59 degrees. The high in Baltimore was 30. Yesterday's normal high is 40 degrees, Woodcock said.

Temperatures are expected to remain below average for the rest of the week with today's forecast calling for clouds, a chance of snow flurries and a high of 25 to 30.

Jockeys at the Laurel Park race course voted to cancel the last seven races yesterday because the weather was "not fit for man or beast," said Ann Taylor, a track spokeswoman.

"Going 40 miles an hour on a horse -- wearing little more than underwear -- is the scene I'm setting for you," Taylor said.

Although yesterday's weather was cold, it was nowhere close to a record-breaking temperature.

The lowest temperature on record for Jan. 17 was set in 1982 when the mercury fell to minus 7 degrees, wind chill excluded. The record high was set in 1913 at 68 degrees.

Low water levels caused problems around the state yesterday.

When Essex resident John Hogarth awoke up with his feet higher than his head, he sensed his sailboat was in trouble.

"I knew because the wind had been blowing all night," he said at the Anchor Bay Marina in Essex. "The water wasn't completely gone, but by the time I got back from the shower room and had a coffee, it was pretty nearly empty."

Hogarth's 25-foot sailboat, the Blue Angel, tipped and dipped and gradually leaned over onto its side, emptying his shelves onto the floor.

"My biggest fear was that it would fall over into the shed and bend the mast," Hogarth said.

Water rises in afternoon

By afternoon, more water had been drawn into Hopkins Creek and the Blue Angel had righted itself.

Other boats nearby remained grounded or frozen in slushy muck.

"You can see how far out it is," said Norman Parslow Jr., waving toward the bare shoreline of Hopkins Creek in Essex. "The tide's always lower in winter -- I guess it depends on the moon -- but she's a good 3 feet out farther than normal."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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