Baltimore came within two degrees of breaking a record for cold temperatures Saturday morning, with a chance for freezing rain ahead Sunday and more single-digit lows forecast next week.
Temperatures fell to 6 degrees at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport early Saturday. The record low for Saturday's date is 4 degrees, set in 1918. It was only the fifth time single-digit temperatures were recorded at BWI and the coldest temperature measured there since January 2009.
A freezing rain advisory is in effect for areas along and west of Interstate 95 from 6 a.m. to noon Sunday, though temperatures are forecast to warm in the afternoon. Less than a tenth of inch of ice accumulation is expected before the rain is expected to stop freezing around midday but continue into the afternoon, with highs in the lower 40s.
Given the spate of dangerous cold and wintry weather, city health officials canvassed the city Friday to bring in homeless and other vulnerable populations from the cold.
"A lot of them are afraid to go in shelters," said Derrick Crawford, supervisor for homeless services for Health Care Access Maryland, as he visited tents along the Fallsway, persuading their inhabitants to move to shelters. "Some people maybe have some sort of mental illness and they don't really realize they need to be in a shelter."
City health officials declared a "Code Blue" alert from late Thursday through 10 a.m. Saturday, a designation that sends officials out to search for those without adequate shelter and urges private homeless shelters to extend hours.
While air temperatures climbed to the lower 20s around the region Friday afternoon, wind chills made it feel as cold as 5 degrees below zero with stiff northwesterly gusts.
For some homeless people Crawford and colleagues spoke with, there was little choice but to move to a shelter. Dwayne Perry, a 60-year-old man with a bushy white beard, moved to Baltimore from Delaware this summer, living in a tent along the Fallsway near the Jones Falls Expressway. But snow collapsed the tent Thursday night, and Perry agreed to move to a shelter since his home of the last five months was unable to protect him from the cold.
"I'm an old man. I can't be out in this," Perry said.
Meanwhile, a man and woman in a neighboring tent agreed to go to a shelter after they were told they wouldn't have to be separated.
But others resisted.
"I'd rather be out here; that way I can get up when I want to go," said Warren Bell, a 53-year-old who said he stays warm enough under blankets in his tent.
Forecasters expected that with the cooling effect of the 4 to 7 inches of snow that fell across the region Thursday and calming winds overnight Friday into Saturday, air temperatures could fall close to zero or below. The dew point, the temperature at which moisture in the air would condense and form dew, was hovering around 1 degree below zero Friday afternoon, an indication that, given the right conditions, the air could get that cold overnight, said Bryan Jackson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Baltimore/Washington forecast office.
"If the winds completely calm down and it's completely clear, you can get close to that temperature, so negative-1 is the potential," Jackson said.
Temperatures last dropped below zero at BWI on Feb. 5, 1996, when there was a record-tying low of 1 degree below zero, also with significant snowfall on the ground. Before that, temperatures twice fell below zero in January 1994, to 5 degrees below zero on Jan. 19 and 2 degrees below zero on Jan. 21, the former a record that still stands.
The lowest temperature on record in Baltimore is 7 degrees below zero, occurring five times, in February 1899 and 1934 and in January 1963, 1982 and 1984.
Single-digit lows are forecast to return to the region Monday night after a more seasonable weekend with highs in the 30s and low 40s. Rain is likely on Sunday, possibly including a mix of sleet and snow. Lows Monday into Tuesday are expected in the low single digits, with highs in the teens Tuesday and wind chills in the single digits or below zero.
Single-digit temperatures are rare in Baltimore, occurring on only four occasions since 2009, the most recent being Jan. 24, 2011, with a low of 8 degrees.