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With another cold week forecast, plumbers, utilities urge caution

Detail of separated pipe in basement of home in Baltimore.
Detail of separated pipe in basement of home in Baltimore. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun)

With sub-freezing weather forecast to continue through most of the week, officials are urging residents to do what they can to prevent pipes from freezing and to prepare for higher-than-normal utility bills.

Baltimore public works officials said they have received nearly 5,000 calls over the past week related to frozen pipes and other water issues, creating a backlog of service requests. They asked residents to leave basement faucets dripping and to shut off water to outside faucets.

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And Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials warned that customers could expect higher-than-normal bills for this month, offering options for those who might have difficulty paying.

Lows were expected to drop into the upper single digits early Tuesday morning and remain in the teens and 20s through the week, but for a slight warm-up into the mid-30s expected Wednesday. The cold likely will rank this month among the three coldest months of February on record in Baltimore.

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But as March begins, a milder pattern could set in, forecasters said.

Public works officials said more than 2,100 Baltimore residents called in reports of no water or water leaks Friday and Saturday, when record-breaking lows of 1 degree and 2 degrees, respectively, were observed at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The public works department moved crews to around-the-clock, 12-hour shifts and assigned additional workers to respond to reports of no water. Contractors also have been called in as necessary, officials said.

The bitter cold also is expected to continue to strain the electricity grid. So far this month, the region has experienced more than two weeks' worth of below-freezing temperatures, about a third more than normal, according to BGE. The utility encouraged customers to take advantage of budget billing, and, if necessary, bill payment assistance through the Maryland Office of Home Energy Programs or Fuel Fund of Maryland.

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Temperatures are expected to remain below normal this week, but not as extreme as last week, said Kevin Witt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Baltimore/Washington forecast office. Highs are forecast in the upper 20s Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with lows of about 10 to 15 degrees on those mornings.

Wednesday could warm to the upper 30s, but breezes could bring wind chills in the 20s.

A Code Blue alert is in effect in Baltimore until Wednesday morning, a designation that frees up extra beds in shelters and other resources for the homeless.

After chances for light snow Saturday and Sunday, however, relief from the cold could arrive.

"It's going to gradually transition out of this pattern," Witt said.

Instead of high-pressure systems over the Great Lakes and eastern Canada funneling cold air southeastward, weather systems are instead expected to move in from the southwest next week, bringing milder air to the region, Witt said.

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