Coldest Jan. since '94 shivers area's timbers

Brisk start to new year keeps heaters cranked, but it's not all unwelcome

January 25, 2003|By Jason Song, Frank Roylance and Laurie Willis | Jason Song, Frank Roylance and Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Tourists Kristen Fusco and her boyfriend, Tyler Nowicki, had one day together in Baltimore, and they spent it braving frigid weather and biting winds at the nearly empty Inner Harbor Ice Rink.

"It's not bad," both Kristen and Tyler said yesterday after skating hand in hand.

While most in the Baltimore region stayed indoors, conditioned by weeks of punishingly icy air, the thermometer actually climbed briefly above freezing yesterday. But not before establishing some benchmarks.

The National Weather Service reported yesterday that it has been the coldest January since 1994.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. provided supporting evidence.

It reported that customers in Central Maryland set records for peak power consumption when they cranked up their heaters Thursday evening. Residential customers used 6,156 megawatts of power at 7 p.m. Thursday, eclipsing the old record of 6,038 megawatts set Jan. 19, 1994, said a BGE spokeswoman.

Customers also used 817,600 dekatherms of natural gas Thursday, beating the previous high of 795,700 dekatherms, set Jan. 17, 1994, the spokeswoman said.

As Maryland and the rest of the East shivered, President Bush ordered yesterday that states affected by the cold receive nearly $200 million in emergency heating aid for their poorest families. Maryland may receive nearly $3.8 million.

The cold has also led to an unusually high number of fires started by malfunctioning heating devices or holiday lights, according to the American Red Cross' Central Maryland chapter, which has provided help to the victims of 80 residential blazes over the past two weeks.

The chapter usually responds to 80 fires a month, Red Cross officials said.

Experts are blaming the cold on stubborn air pressure patterns over the North Atlantic and Western United States, which have been forcing cold Siberian air southward.

Forecasters, who have been predicting relief for days, did so again yesterday.

The next few days should be more typical, alternating between cold snaps and warm patches, said Chris Johannesson, a meteorologist at the Weather Communications Group in State College, Pa.

"Things are starting to warm up a little bit," Johannesson said.

Which is welcome news to Marylanders, especially those who have to work outside. "It's very difficult, very hard," said Julio Guaman, 47, an Ecuadorean who wore insulated coveralls and a hood as he picked up leaves in Towson yesterday.

Some businesses didn't try to fight the elements. Seaport Taxi, which runs water taxis in the Inner Harbor, was closed for most of the day. "Baltimore has a lot of tourists, and when you have someone in the city trying to take advantage of all the things we have, they're disappointed when they can't go out and see the harbor," said David Cole, the company's marketing director and administrator.

But not everyone is wincing at the biting cold. For farmers, the snow that accompanied the chill has been a welcome sign of recovery from the state's drought.

"Coming off a two-year drought, this little cold spell is nothing. It can be cold all it wants," Deborah Gwynne, a beef cattle farmer in Taneytown in Carroll County, said yesterday.

Still, the cold meant more work for farmers, such as clearing ice from feeding troughs and feeding cattle, which eat more when temperatures drop.

"Rather than doing something worthwhile, you spend a lot of time thawing things out and keeping the cows comfortable," said Marlin Hoff, who owns Coldsprings Farm, Carroll County's largest dairy farm.

The cold barely seemed to affect some. Doug Preston, a 54-year-old Waverly resident, has gone jogging around Baltimore's Lake Montebello every day this month. "It doesn't matter what the weather's like," he said yesterday as he took a break. "It's never too cold to jog," he said as he started running again.

Sun staff writers Luke Tracy, Dan Harsha, Childs Walker, Ivan Penn and Stephanie Hanes contributed to this article.

Baltimore Co.

Closed:Faced with early icy road conditions to the north, county officials shut down schools for the day. [Page 1b]

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