Region shivers, waits for relief

Today's forecast includes rising temperatures and a chance of snow

January 17, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

It's a cold day in Maryland when the statues are adding layers.

A little girl cast in bronze, laughing as she is lifted in a man's embrace, was wearing pink socks on her normally bare feet yesterday in Columbia Town Center - just one of many area residents who bundled up against the bite of frigid air and below-freezing temperatures.

The area experienced a second day of bitter weather as Arctic air moved over the Northeast, causing a deep freeze north to New England.

"It's very cold," said Donnie Awadat of Columbia as he walked from his job at the Sheraton in Town Center to his apartment along the shore of a frozen Lake Kittamaqundi. "I put all of the clothes I have on me."

The temperature at Baltimore-Washington International Airport reached a high of 27 degrees at 4 p.m. yesterday, according to the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., 14 degrees below normal for this time of year. The temperature at the airport was 13 degrees at 8 a.m. yesterday, said David Manning, a weather service meteorologist, and wind chills in Baltimore started around minus-6 degrees, climbing into the teens later in the day.

The weather system is not expected to stay much longer, Manning said. The forecast for today includes the possibility of snow and temperatures in the 30s.

Despite the appeal of staying under the covers with a cup of hot chocolate, many people put on their warm gear, braced themselves and headed out.

One of the least pleasant obligations had to belong to five divers being trained for the Baltimore City Fire Department Dive Rescue Team in the frigid waters near the Korean War Memorial in Canton.

"It's actually warmer in the water than out of it," said Capt. Terry Horrocks, who supervised the test dives. "It was 17 degrees outside when we got here around 8 this morning, but it's about 37 degrees underwater."

Horrocks described the men as "very dedicated." He joked, "They didn't have to all go in the water today, but if one of 'em didn't, we'd call him names, make fun of him."

Each one - wearing dry suits with thermal underwear - stayed in the water for about 15 minutes before returning to the shore, where tents with heaters offered some relief. They have to make four more open-water dives, including one in which they dive under ice, to complete their training.

Work also went on for Mike Altadonna of Abingdon and his co-workers with American Infrastructure construction company, based in Fallston.

"If we don't work, we don't get paid," he said, standing at the site of an apartment complex being built across from The Mall in Columbia.

His advice: "Wear as much as you can." He was wearing five layers, including overalls and a sweat shirt, a knit hat with earflaps under his hard hat and two pairs of mittens. Another hat was in his pocket just in case.

"You name it, I got it," he said, noting that the men were able to stay warm in their trucks during breaks.

Between year-round sailors and those who live aboard their boats, Fawcett Boat Supplies, by City Dock in Annapolis, has enjoyed a week of brisk sales of nontoxic antifreeze, hats, gloves and boat heaters, said manager Bill Griffin.

Joe Fernon, customer service manager for Fawcett, is spending his seventh year living on Joe's Therapy, his 22-foot sailboat. He said the boat is about 20 degrees when he gets home from work. But he turns on his electric heater and his electric blanket, and makes a pot of soup upon arrival. Within a half-hour it's 60 degrees. He does, however, keep a sleeping bag in case of crisis.

Meanwhile, Randy Q. Jones, who owns R.E. Robertson, a plumbing company near Annapolis, was bracing for a busy weekend because of freezing-thaw cycles and the large number of homes in the area that have no basements. In addition to the six plumbers working this weekend, he has 12 on call, he said.

There were no deaths related to the cold reported to the state medical examiner's office, but the weather caused a few other problems.

High winds knocked down power lines in Sparrows Point early yesterday morning, leaving 4,700 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers in eastern Baltimore County without heat and electricity for about three hours, said Sharon Sasada, a BGE spokeswoman. Thirty-eight industrial park customers were the last to get their power about 10:30 a.m., she said.

The utility has brought in extra crews in case of problems in the cold weather, Sasada said.

Local shelters also are stepping up efforts as temperatures make it dangerous for people to stay outdoors overnight.

People "absolutely must have a place to go in this weather," said Andrea Ingram, executive director of Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center in Columbia. A church-based shelter will open in Ellicott City on Sunday to supplement the 32 beds Grassroots has.

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