It will now need to feel at least 7 degrees colder on a winter day for the mayor's Code Blue program — which requires the city to offer additional homeless services and encourages private organizations to do the same — to be activated, a health official said Wednesday.
"There are jurisdictions north of us that have fewer [cold emergency] days even though they're colder than us," said Brian M. Schleter, a spokesman for the Baltimore City Health Department, explaining that the decision to adjust the Code Blue criteria was made in part to keep Baltimore's actions in line with other cities on the eastern seaboard.
The adjustment was not a financial decision, he said, even though the city plans to offer 60 additional beds at the city's 24-hour homeless shelter every day there is a cold emergency.
The new system is also intended to prevent "message fatigue," Schleter said. The city wants a Code Blue call to be heeded; too many of tehm during a single season may desensitize people and organizations to the severity of the anticipated weather.
This winter, Baltimore's health commissioner will be able to declare a Code Blue day when temperatures are expected to feel — including wind chill — 13 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, Schleter said. Last winter, a Code Blue day would be declared if air temperatures — the temperature, not considering wind speeds — were expected to be less than or equal to 20 F.
An apparent temperature of 13 degrees — the air temperature factoring in the wind chill — can be achieved if the air temperature is 25 degrees and there are sustained winds of 15 mph. If the air temperature is 20 degrees, sustained winds will need to be at least 5 mph for the apparent temperature to be 13 degrees.
Under the new system, like the old, the city's health commissioner has wide latitude to determine whether a Code Blue day needs to be called, Schleter said. The department will be especially focused on calling Code Blue days if there is going to be a drastic change in temperature, even if the low may not drop below an apparent 13 degrees, he said.
Wednesday brought on the first Code Blue alert for the 2011-2012 winter. It was called because temperatures were expected to decline precipitously overnight.