Arctic blast descends over the Northeast

`I have on thermals, sweat shirts ... an Eskimo hat'

January 16, 2004|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Painfully cold Arctic air gripped the Northeast and dipped into Maryland yesterday - forcing shelters in Baltimore to stay open all night, trapping ferries in ice in New York, and prompting warnings to bundle up from Maine to Washington.

Thermometers overnight registered single digits from the northern reaches of the Mid-Atlantic - and in an extreme case, 36 degrees below zero at Saranac Lake, N.Y.

Baltimore was blasted with icy air from the Canadian frontier, forcing many people to stay indoors despite illusory sunshine. Die-hards who ventured into the cold were covered in layers and layers of clothing.

"I have on thermals, sweat shirts, insulated pants, and an Eskimo hat," said John Featherstone, 54, of Baltimore, who spent several hours last night helping to direct traffic and park cars for a revival at Huber Memorial Church on York Road.

Forecasts for the region called for temperatures plunging into the low teens, with a wind chill as bitter as 10 degrees below zero, said Steven Rogowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.

Temperatures today are expected to be relatively warmer, but by no means balmy: By midday, the mercury could top out at 28 degrees, Rogowski said.

Looking ahead to the weekend, a snowstorm could descend on the area by Saturday evening, but as of last night, it was still too soon to say how much snow - if any - could fall.

Night-time temperatures in Baltimore were not expected to break any records - the coldest day of the year so far was Jan. 10, at 6 degrees; the coldest Jan. 16 on record was in 1893, at 1 degree. But with the windchill, that was small comfort.

Patricia Ann McNair, 48, of Baltimore coped at a bus stop for 10 cheek-chilling minutes last night. Encased in heavy wool clothing, including her dress and long coat, McNair was cheerful despite winter's blast.

"It wasn't as cold as I thought," said McNair, who was on her way to church. But winter is not her favorite time of the year.

"I like spring and fall," she said warmly.

A bitter cold front settled into the Northeast yesterday as snow gradually ended across the region - with the Baltimore area's predicted 2 to 4 inches mostly proving to be a light frosting.

Morning lows were well below zero in northern New England with frigid wind chills. Massena and Plattsburgh, both in upper New York state, reported lows of 21 below zero. Wind chills in several New York communities were 30 below, and towns in Maine felt colder still. In Frenchville, Maine, the wind made the temperature feel like 49 below zero.

In Yonkers, N.Y., where the snow was heavier, retired construction worker Thomas Robbins, 66, pulled over to the side of the slippery Bronx River Parkway.

"Mostly I'm resting my hands," he said. "I'm gripping the wheel so tight because I'm afraid of skidding."

Some ferries linking New Jersey and New York City were iced in, forcing commuters to hop buses or find some other way to work. Two New York-area airports, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International, reported more than 200 flights canceled.

Philadelphia received 4 inches of snow and reached a high temperature of 22, but the mercury was expected to drop to zero for the first time in a decade last night. Boston saw only a dusting of snow, but Harwich, Mass., on Cape Cod received 4 inches. The low for Boston came in at minus 4.

In Uxbridge, Mass., near Worcester, school buses had trouble running because the cold caused their diesel fuel to congeal. School officials finally told parents to keep their children home.

Big Rock ski resort in Maine closed for a second straight day yesterday.

The coldest air in the Northeast will gradually begin to recede today, but strong winds will continue to magnify the chill. Sunshine will be mixed with patchy clouds, especially near the eastern Great Lakes and northern New England mountains. Afternoon temperatures will be higher than yesterday's in most spots, but highs will still be 10 to 25 degrees below normal, forecaster said.

In the Baltimore region, where wind chills were expected to reach dangerously cold levels last night, homeless shelters kicked into high gear, offering expanded hours and moving in additional beds and cots.

Last night, the city Health Department declared another "Code Blue," a designation that activates the city's 230-bed emergency homeless shelter at 1400 E. Federal St., said Melisa Lindamood, a health official who runs the Code Blue program.

City officials have declared six "code blue" nights since the shelter opened Jan. 6. To date, it has accommodated 916 people. On Sunday, the last "code blue" night, the facility housed 198 people.

"That was the max we've ever seen," Lindamood said. "We're blowing the records we saw last year."

Last year the shelter served 3,751 people in 34 nights. The most on any one night was 183, she said.

"We haven't had to turn anybody away," Lindamood said. "We're working on the assumption that the other shelters are full."

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