Hats, scarves -- and a few headaches

Deep freeze accompanied by icy roads, burst pipes and some power outages

December 21, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

There was just enough snow yesterday to introduce 22-year- old Florida native Nikki Cucci to all the joys of winter weather, as she visited Annapolis with former Severn resident Sean Conlon.

"I had her scrape the windshield," said Conlon, 24, while he and Cucci shopped for souvenirs and holiday gifts on City Dock.

Single-digit temperatures and heavy winds a day before winter's official start left a sparkling sheen on parts of the region yesterday, complicating the morning commute, freezing pipes and forcing a few schools to close.

School districts in Southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore canceled classes. Icy roads caused minor accidents around the region.

And commuters had to ride a shuttle bus between the Camden and Patapsco light rail stations in Baltimore after ice and wind damaged overhead electrical cables.

The culprit was an arctic cold front that drove temperatures down by as much as 20 degrees Sunday.

Rain falling on parts of the region quickly changed to snow, said meteorologist Cindy Woods of the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.

Temperatures of 9 degrees at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and 7 degrees in Westminster early yesterday morning were far below the area's normal lows of 27 degrees, but were not record-setting, said Nikole Listemaa, a National Weather Service meteorologist. The record low for both Dec. 19 and 20 is 6 degrees.

Although many areas had trace amounts of snow, Annapolis recorded an inch, and Oxon Hill in Prince George's County had 1.1 inches, Woods said. Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore received an inch or less, said Rick Curry, a technician at the National Weather Service's Wakefield, Va., office.

But there were no reports of the "arctic sea smoke" that the weather service had predicted - dense fog caused when cool air moves over warm bodies of water such as the Chesapeake Bay.

"Winds may have been too strong," Listemaa said, preventing the fog from forming.

Despite the bitter cold, most schools around Baltimore were open yesterday, although the Anne Arundel County school system delayed opening for two hours - and some individual schools didn't fare so well.

Chesapeake Bay Middle School in Pasadena was closed because of burst heating coils in the cafeteria and media center, said Walter F. George, supervisor of operations for Anne Arundel County schools.

In Baltimore County, Warren Elementary remained closed yesterday because of a water main break, though officials could not say whether it was caused by low temperatures. Six other schools in that county closed early for lack of heat.

Parts of Frederick lost power yesterday, including the courthouse, because of an underground equipment failure related to the low temperatures, an Allegheny Power spokesman said. More than 1,100 customers were without electricity for part of the day across the company's Maryland service area.

The ice and low temperatures also affected travel.

State police reported three separate accidents on the eastbound ramp onto Route 32 from Interstate 95 in Howard County early yesterday morning, according to state police in Waterloo. No one was injured, state police said. Police closed the ramp about 6:30 a.m. but reopened it about an hour later.

Because temperatures were expected to remain in the teens overnight, the Baltimore Health Department opened its "Code Blue" shelter at Oliver Community Center, 1400 E. Federal St., last night.

The shelter is activated on nights when the temperature drops below 25 degrees with 15 mph winds. It also is available to those whose homes are without heat.

Others sought heat in liquid form. Inside the Daily Grind, a Fells Point coffee bar, patrons bundled in layers of warmth huddled over lattes.

"It's usually so warm in here," said barista Tom Bowen. "We've been wearing our jackets and hats inside today."

Forecasters predicted a rebound to seasonal norms of about 40 degrees today.

But yesterday's small accumulations and the rising temperatures shouldn't dissolve hopes for a white Christmas. The second part of the week likely will be wet, said meteorologist Steve Rogowski, leaving a slight chance of snow for Friday night.

Sun staff writers Kelly Brewington, Hanah Cho, Doug Donovan and Sara Neufeld, and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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