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Cold snap strains pipes, threatens animals and events in Harford; schools closed Friday

Harford County settled into another deep freeze this week, joining the rest of the region in a new blast of frigid weather that arrived Wednesday evening.

With temperatures projected to be as low as negative digits by Friday morning, and wind chills expected to hit 20 below zero overnight, people hunkered down and waited for the record-breaking cold to pass.

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In a pre-emptive move, Harford County Public Schools said schools would be closed on Friday because of the cold, making that announcement at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Temperatures are expected to rise over the weekend, but weather forecasts warned of another round of snow, freezing rain or ice starting Saturday.

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Plumbing and heating companies in Harford were kept busy all week, as water and waste systems sometimes buckled under the strain of a cold spell that began with bitterly cold weather the previous weekend.

Pipes froze and burst around the county, flooding properties or leaving people waterless.

"We've been extremely busy," Edward Hopkins, director of the Harford County Department of Emergency Services, said. "A lot of what we're getting is calls for frozen or broken pipes."

Hopkins, a veteran of the county fire service, said a lot of calls received earlier this week by the county 911 Center start as automatic alarm notifications and, in cold weather, many are triggered by leaks in fire suppression systems. Regardless of the cause, fire personnel still have to respond to the call, he said.

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Bob Ewers, owner of Harford Plumbing & Heating in Forest Hill, said he has seen "a lot of frozen lines" and been on calls for about six broken pipes this week.

"One house was destroyed on Bright Oaks [Drive in Emmorton]. It flooded, wiped out the heat system," he said Thursday morning, while working on two pipe-related calls on Sweet Air Road, in the Baldwin area.

Ewers said the past two winters have been the worst he has seen in 20 years on the job.

"Last year started it off. Last year, when it got really cold, I saw a lot of problems," he said, expecting more broken pipes as the cold spell lifted.

"I am getting a lot more calls this year. It's going to get a lot worse this weekend," he said.

Ewers said the strong wind chills have blown more cold air into interior spaces.

"Most of what I have seen has been because of the wind causing air infiltration into the houses," he said, adding he has especially seen issues with townhouses. "The houses are not as tight as they used to be."

He also had a couple of customers in Jarrettsville whose "lines froze; they were getting no water flow."

Ewers instructed them to keep their faucets opened slightly, and the pipes were saved. He urged anyone with a history of frozen or broken pipes to be proactive, by letting water drip from their faucets and keeping heat flowing around any pipes or exposed systems.

"If people have had problems in the past, then they definitely need to keep their faucets dripping," he said.

Animals in danger

While people can bundle up when winter strikes, animals are more likely to be left out in the cold or face unseen dangers of freezing.

One such incident recently proved fatal, when a shih tzu got away from a leash and jumped into an ice-covered Bynum Pond in Bel Air Tuesday. The dog died despite firefighters' rush to save her.

"This little dog, that should be a really big wake-up call for people," Mary Leavens, executive director of The Humane Society of Harford County, said Thursday. "Look how fast something can happen. It's just an eye-opener."

People also need to be careful to properly line and enclose a doghouse, if they use one, Blaine Lang, shelter operations manager, said.

"Animal control, as we speak, are bringing in two dogs from a yard that did not have the proper provisions," he said early Thursday afternoon. Lang noted dogs that are left outside are eating cold food and dealing with freezing water.

Leavens said she has not seen any cases of animal hypothermia or other fatalities, but urged pet owners to curtail dog-walking to the bare minimum.

"With this weather, people really need to take it seriously and keep their dogs inside," she said. "Dogs' feet can actually freeze up, and sometimes when their feet are hurting, they will actually lie down in the snow."

Lang added: "These guys can't speak up and say, 'Hey, I'm cold."

Low-key start to Lent

The rare cold snap cast a shadow over many people's Lenten celebrations and observances, as religious activities were curtailed or called off during the start of Christianity's holiest season.

Havre de Grace's eighth annual Mardi Gras Parade, originally scheduled for Tuesday and moved to Friday because of bad weather, was canceled.

"Mother Nature had other ideas this year, although the committee looks forward to continue the planning and the growth of this event next year," Havre de Grace tourism manager Brigitte Peters said in a press release Thursday.

Some congregations canceled Ash Wednesday services ahead of time. Deer Creek Harmony Presbyterian Church, in Havre de Grace, cited "extremely cold temperatures and possible icy conditions" in deciding to cancel its Wednesday night service.

Havre de Grace United Methodist Church postponed its Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner to Friday evening.

Aegis news editor Allan Vought contributed to this article.

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