The city declared two ‘Code Blue’ weather alerts as the first winter snow fell last week. But before meteorologists even predicted the frigid temperatures, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was already preparing for a third blizzard. She held a joint news conference with various city agencies late last month to announce “Baltimore is ready for winter.”

Her proactive plan comes 9 months after the city – and its faltering emergency crews – was pelted with unprecedented snowfall.

This winter, the city has a $3.5 million budget, 300 personnel, 254 pieces of equipment and 15,200 tons of salt to compound snow this year, the Mayor said.

“Last year over 100 inches of snow fell on Baltimore – 50 of which fell in one week – and we were able to keep the city safe,” she said in a statement. “We are prepared to do the same this year no matter what Mother Nature throws our way.”

She says emergency crews are equipped to “deliver prompt and efficient service.”

The city will also continue the ‘Code Blue’ program through spring. Health commissioner Oxiris Barbot declares the alerts when temperatures drop below 25 degrees with 15 miles per hour winds, when temperatures are less than 20 degrees or during other dangerous conditions.

These warnings are the city’s effort to provide safeguards for the homeless, elderly and other residents vulnerable to blistering conditions.

“It is critical that we plan now to protect those who will need food and a warm place to go, especially those experiencing homelessness,” said Rawlings-Blake. “Together we can take simple measures to ensure all Baltimore City residents are safe from the cold.”

During ‘Code Blue’ days, the homeless shelter at 210 Guilford Ave. opens to everyone in need of a bed and food. The shelter will remain open every night until mid-March. If it becomes overcrowded, patrons will be bused to an overflow center at an undisclosed location.

Winter 2006-07 was the first year the winter shelter stayed open daily. Almost 230 patrons entered each day. Health officials attribute the shelter’s extended hours with that year’s 50 percent decrease in hypothermia deaths.

Last year, eight people died of hypothermia, and there were 75 days when temperature highs were below freezing, said the health department. The homeless, elderly, drug users, alcohol abusers and those with pre-existing heart conditions are most likely to succumb to the temperature-dropping condition.

“Extreme cold weather is a killer,” said Barbot. “While we are primarily concerned about individuals experiencing homelessness, the elderly and chronically ill also are at risk for developing hypothermia should they lose heat or venture out in the cold without adequate protection.”

Barbot, Rawlings-Blake and other city officials advise residents to stay home during severe weather conditions, and if they must drive, practice caution and keep emergency supplies – like fresh batteries, flashlights and blankets – in their vehicles.

Residents without heat are warned not use generators in enclosed spaces because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Baltimoreans can stay updated on snowy weather conditions by visiting www.396snow.com or calling the “snow line” at 410-396-SNOW.

 

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO