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Harford County officials warned residents of hypothermia and other dangers in light of record-setting cold temperatures Monday and Tuesday, and there was more concern about the abnormally cold temperatures overnight Tuesday into Wednesday morning.

The county was hit by bitter cold that started Monday night, with temperatures plummeting into the low single digits and the wind chill making it feel as cold as 15 degrees below zero overnight.

Temperatures were reported as low as 1 degree or zero overnight Monday, and though it was sunny throughout the day Tuesday, high temperatures barely reached above 10 degrees in and around Bel Air.

The impending cold forced Harford County Public Schools to cancel all classes Tuesday.

School officials announced late Tuesday afternoon that classes will begin two hours late on Wednesday morning, with no morning Pre-K or preschool services.

In addition, Joppatowne High School and Fallston Middle School will be closed Wednesday, because of what the school system says are "mechanical failures in the building."

"Harford County is experiencing some of the harshest weather conditions we have seen in decades," Harford County Emergency Manager Rick Ayers said on Monday. "We urge everyone to take the opportunity to prepare themselves, their family and loved ones for several days of sub-freezing temperatures."

"Hypothermia is a major concern, particularly for our elderly, the very young and homeless population," Ayers said.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, the Emergency Operations Center in Hickory, north of Bel Air, recorded a temperature of 1 degree, according to Bob Thomas, spokesman for the Harford County Department of Emergency Services.

Similar lows were being reported from one end of the county to the other and by midday Tuesday, it was rare to find an area where the temperature had risen above 9 degrees.

The county had not opened any shelters as of Tuesday afternoon, but the libraries were open to provide warmth.

"With the cooperation of Mary Hastler of Harford County Public Library, we are inviting the public, those in need, to visit [a] Harford County Public Library location as a 'warming center' during their normal business hours today," Thomas said. "At this time we have not opened any shelters in the county."

Emergency management personnel were closely monitoring weather conditions in case a large-scale power outage or other situation would require shelters to be open. No major outages had been reported by late Tuesday afternoon, however.

At about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, BGE reported 20 customers without power in an Edgewood community, Thomas said.

The emergency management team sent three people to Edgewood to find the customers and check on their well-being, he added. The outage was in an eight-unit apartment the 1600 block Swallowcrest Drive and was first reported around 9 p.m. Monday, Thomas said. The property manager brought in a contractor to repair the problem.

Emergency management staff made contact with people in six of the eight units, advised them of the situation and offered assistance.

"None requested assistance, and at least two of the tenants indicated they would relocate to stay with family or friends," Thomas said. "There was no response at two of the apartments."

There was an emergency radio dispatch for an "environmental exposure" in the Joppa area around 4:10 p.m. on Tuesday, but no additional details were available.

There were no reports of major water or sewer line problems from the cold, other than a break in a groundwater line on the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground on Monday that the post command said was repaired and did not affect any post utilities.

At a Joppa/Joppatowne Community Council meeting Monday night, Sheriff's Office Capt. Jonathan Krass said Harford's homeless seemed to have been accounted for by the county.

"I think they have pretty much got everybody in, is what I am getting," Krass said, noting some people may not have wanted help or shelter.

Krass also urged residents to help anyone who is not wearing a coat or adequate winter clothing.

For the most part, people appeared to be hunkered down during the day Tuesday.

The county offered the following tips to residents through Wednesday, when the cold is expected to start lifting:

Staying warm

Keep the thermostat of the home at 65 degrees at a minimum. Consistently check to ensure the home is warm. Although heating costs may be rising, health and safety during extremely cold weather conditions should be a priority. Place weather-stripping around windows and doors to help prevent drafts. Keep doors to unused rooms closed and close curtains at night. Add an extra blanket to the bed as opposed to using electric blankets. Dress in layers of loose fitting clothing. If venturing outdoors, make sure the head is covered.

Traveling

Drive only if it is absolutely necessary. When traveling drive during daylight hours and keep others informed of your schedule and planned destination. Have a safety kit in the vehicle. This would include a shovel, windshield scraper and small broom or brush, working flashlight, battery powered radio, water, snacks or food items, emergency road flares and blankets. Keep the gas tank full to help prevent gas line freezing. Keep extra hats, gloves as well as a sweater or coat in the car.

General safety

Keep cell phones fully charged if possible to help ensure they are ready in the event of an emergency. When going outdoors, cover exposed skin to help prevent frostbite. Look for signs of hypothermia and seek medical attention immediately if symptoms develop.

In the event of a power outage, avoid using generators in the home or garage. Generators produce carbon monoxide and should only be outside in well-ventilated areas to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning to occupants of a home.

Avoid the use of portable grills, camp stoves or other propane, natural gas or charcoal burning devices inside a home, garage, basement or any partially enclosed area. Such equipment should only be used in accordance with manufacturer's instructions and away from doors, windows or vents which could allow carbon-monoxide to come indoors.

Remember to check on and help neighbors and those with special needs, including infants, senior citizens, those with chronic illnesses and people with disabilities. Don't forget the safety and well-being of pets. Do not keep pets outdoors during sub-freezing, harsh weather conditions. Pets should be brought indoors. If leaving the home for an extended period, place pets in an interior room that is heated, along with food and water to help ensure health and well-being.

For further information on winter and storm preparedness, visit the Harford County Department of Emergency Services website at http://www.harfordpublicsafety.org or the Federal Emergency Management Agency website at http://www.fema.gov or call 410-638-4900.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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