Cumberland Times-News

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January 6, 2014

Schools closed as residents brace for extreme weather

CUMBERLAND — Extreme cold temperatures today, possibly the coldest in two decades, have resulted in a wave of cancellations and school closings. Those needing help coping with the bitter cold have options available to stay warm. The extreme temperatures will only last through midday Wednesday, when thermometers will rise into the high 20s and winds decline, according to National Weather Service forecasts.

Schools in Allegany and Garrett counties are closed today, primarily as a safety precaution. Mineral County schools were already scheduled to be closed on their annual calendar.

“We’re expecting wind chills of minus 30 to  minus 40 degrees. We can’t have students exposed to that,” said Jim Morris, supervisor of research, evaluation and information for Garrett County schools.

Transportation issues can also come up, Morris said.

“When we get down really low, down to minus 5 or minus 17, it can be hard for diesel-fueled buses to start,” Morris said. The word was pretty much the same for Allegany County schools.

“With temperatures that cold we can’t have students waiting at bus stops. ... it’s not worth the risk,” said Mia Cross, the public information officer for Allegany County schools. “We’ve closed for the cold at some point in the past few years, it’s not something unheard of,” Cross said.

Frostburg State University closed at the end of the day Monday and is reopening at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Gov. Martin O’Malley has asked all Maryland residents to be cognizant of the cold.

O’Malley said residents should take appropriate safety precautions as some of the coldest temperatures in 20 years approach Maryland.

“The brutal cold that's coming our way can be dangerous, and Marylanders need to be vigilant and prepared," said O’Malley. “After just a few minutes in weather like this, hypothermia can set in and exposed skin can suffer from frostbite. I urge everyone in Maryland to exercise caution, limit their activities outdoors, wear loose layers and cover all exposed skin if venturing outside is unavoidable,” O’Malley said.

The National Weather Service has issued wind chill warnings throughout the area. Actual temperatures will range from about  minus 5 to 2 degrees above zero Tuesday night. Strong winds will drive wind chills down to 20 to 30 below today and 15 to 25 below tonight.

Both Allegany and Garrett counties have set up cold weather shelters. In Allegany County, a center has been established for citizens who may experience extended power outage during the cold. The center opened Monday evening at the Allegany County Fairgrounds Multipurpose Building at 11490 Moss Ave.

Garrett County Emergency Management has set up a warming center at the Southern Garrett Rescue Squad facility, located at 200 Baltimore Ave., Mountain Lake Park. The center opened at 1 p.m. Monday. The location is available to residents seeking warmth from the cold weather. For more information, call toll free 866-254-6184. Garrett County commissioners have declared a state of emergency in order to implement the county’s emergency operations plan.

The Director of Garrett County Emergency Management, John Frank, has asked all residents to remain indoors during the xtreme cold weather. In the event of an emergency, citizens should call 911.

Garrett County government offices will be closed today and will reopen at 10 a.m. Wednesday. All emergency/essential service staff will report to their assigned location and applicable work shift during this period, county officials said.

The county commissioners public meeting for  Jan. 7 has been rescheduled for Jan. 14 at 1 p.m.

Those interested in the Cold Weather Shelter based at the Union Rescue Mission should check with the mission or the Allegany County Human Resources Development Commission. The cold weather shelter is not available on a walk-in basis, said rescue mission staff.

The Cold Weather Shelter opened Jan. 2. The shelter, a joint initiative of HRDC and the Union Rescue Mission, is supported financially by County United Way, the Western Maryland Health System’s Employee Caring Fund and donations from area faith-based institutions and community members. It provides up to 25 additional temporary beds to house homeless individuals and families during the winter.

The Allegany County Animal Shelter released the following information for pet owners Monday:

“The next 48 hours in Allegany County are going to be the coldest here in the last two decades. No pet in our community can be assumed to be safe outside during the overnight hours during the next two days. If you need assistance with keeping a pet safe from the weather, please call the Allegany County Animal Shelter at 301-777-5930 or call local emergency services at 911. Pets left out will be confiscated by authorities, and the owners charged with cruelty. This is a true emergency situation and local residents who own outdoor pets are expect to act accordingly,” shelter officials said in a statement.

Energy companies are also preparing for the situation.

“FirstEnergy crews began focused cold weather inspections and assessments last week to confirm our equipment is in peak condition and minimize potential challenges the extreme weather may pose,” said Mark Julian, vice president of FirstEnergy utility operations. FirstEnergy’s preparations have included verifying oil and pressure levels in breakers and transformers, ensuring proper operation of heaters on breakers and critical substation equipment, and confirming spare fuses and other replacement parts are on hand, Julian said. FirstEnergy doesn’t expect problems from the cold weather alone, officials said.

Trash collections have been postponed in Frostburg, according to City Administrator John Kirby.

“Due to the predicted sub-zero temperatures and wind chills, the city of Frostburg will not collect trash on Tuesday. All Tuesday customers will have their trash collected on Friday. Trash collection will resume the normal schedule the following week,” Kirby said.

Veterans looking for a place to stay can consider the Martinsburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The acting medical center director, Timothy Cooke, has activated “Operation Veteran’s Respite.”

Any veteran and family members in need of shelter should call the National Homeless Hotline at 877-424-3838 to receive help, Cooke said.

The Martinsburg VAMC has set up a reception area in support of this operation. Veterans and family members needing shelter can report to the emergency department at 510 Butler Ave. in Martinsburg or call the toll free number for transportation, Cooke said.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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