A pair of classic - some might say unpleasant - winter weather conditions were expected to greet Marylanders this morning: frigid air and some snow.
Forecasters predicted up to 2 inches of snow for the Baltimore region between 9 p.m. yesterday and early today, when temperatures are to reach the mid-20s. Warmer weather won't arrive until at least the middle of next week, when highs are predicted in the low 30s, according to the National Weather Service.
The recent cold was blamed for the death yesterday of an 81-year-old Montgomery County woman who wandered from her home without a jacket.
The bitter cold also has shocked many in a region that until mid-January had enjoyed a relatively mild winter.
From Carroll County to Baltimore, pipes froze. In one Baltimore County school, children were dismissed early yesterday because of a heating problem. One Howard County cold-weather shelter reached capacity. And pedestrians seemed to get a dose of patience from drivers, who slowed for wind-whipped jaywalkers.
Still, workers had to work - even outside. Darren Johnson, 46, who manned a table of goods for sale (old VHS movies for $2.50 a pop and men's Timberland boots for $85) on an East Baltimore sidewalk, said business was brisk.
"You got to make a way to survive," he said. "Even when it's frigid out here. You got to do it."
Social services officials from across the region made preparations yesterday to prevent weather-related deaths, reminding seniors and other vulnerable groups of the need to stay warm and avoid hypothermia.
Reggie Scriber, deputy commissioner of community service for the city's Department of Housing, said department employees knock on the doors of people who might have trouble keeping warm. The staff will remind them of the city's energy assistance program, which provides subsidies to low-income residents.
The goal is to help 38,000 people this year, he said. Last year, they helped 33,000 to 34,000 residents.
John Stewart, executive director of the Commission on Aging and Retirement Education, said the agency was making automated calls to senior citizens in its database to make sure that they weren't in need of heat or shelter.
Bundled in coats and hats, students blew on their hands to warm their fingers in the hallways at Milford Mill Academy yesterday, which later closed at 12:30 p.m.
Although the school's boilers were kept running all night, mechanical problems prevented the heat from reaching all the classrooms, Principal Nathaniel Gibson said. The problem is expected to be resolved in time for class today.
"My hands were freezing," said Milan Wiggs, a 17-year-old senior, explaining that the chill made it hard to concentrate and write in her business class.
Kurt Kocher, spokesman for the city's Department of Public Works, said about 25 water main breaks were confirmed by midafternoon, with another 100 unconfirmed reports of breaks, some on private property.
Many home heating and plumbing companies reported a steady stream of calls as pipes froze or burst from the sudden shift in weather and aging heating systems failed - a burst of business for what they said had been a slow money-making season.
Ed Dermer, owner of Farnen & Dermer in Owings Mills, said he had more than 150 calls by early afternoon -five times more than usual. And they were for all types of heating - hot-air furnaces, boilers, heat pumps, oil and gas systems.
"They're all kind of failing at this time, the older systems," he said.
And he wasn't complaining.
"For as slow as it's been, this is something that has been needed for a long time," he said. "I personally don't enjoy the cold, but from a financial standpoint, it's well-deserved. This is the worst it's been for business in probably 10 years at least."
At Len the Plumber in Arbutus, business was so brisk that it was hard just to get someone on the phone.
John Mercer, general manager of the office, said the influx of calls for frozen pipes was the biggest he has seen in several years. "As cold as it's gotten and it's running several days, so it's going to get worse," he said.
Mercer said he would advise people to let their faucets run a little overnight so they don't freeze. "Just a drip won't hurt," he said. "An increased water bill is a lot easier to deal with than frozen pipes."
Sun reporters Arin Gencer, Laura McCandlish, Julie Scharper, John-John Williams IV, Rumar Kumar and Ellie Baublitz contributed to this article.