Plumbers were deluged with phone calls from homeowners experiencing frozen pipes, and local utilities were bracing for a flurry of water main breaks.
Water temperatures in the Potomac and other rivers that feed the area’s drinking water supply usually lag a day or two behind air temperatures, meaning water main breaks are likely to spike in the next couple of days, utility officials said. Sudden changes in water temperature cause already old, brittle pipes to weaken as they expand and contract.
“We’re asking for people’s patience,” said I.J. Hudson, a spokesman for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), which has 5,600 miles of water pipe in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. “Things will start popping.”
The cold was blamed for a broken rail along Metro’s Green Line, causing trains on the route to share a track for nearly two hours Wednesday morning until the rail was replaced, said Dan Stessel, a spokesman for Metro.
But if the cold was an annoyance for most, in some cases it was life-threatening.
In Montgomery County, a cellphone tower repairman called 911 to say that he was too cold to get down, said Assistant Fire Chief Scott Graham of the county’s Fire and Rescue Service. The man exhibited “hypothermic” symptoms and was taken to a hospital, Graham said.
Shelters were filling up, and some localities opened extra facilities to house the homeless and allowed people to stay in them all day.
Fairfax County opened an additional shelter, for a total of six, and officials said residents can go to any open county building to stay warm, including libraries and government centers. No one will be turned away from a county shelter, said spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald.
And in Arlington County, the A-Span emergency homeless shelter in the Courthouse area is “running above capacity,” said executive director Kathleen Sibert. That shelter has 73 beds, but on Tuesday night, 84 people needed housing. The extra 11 people were sent to Baileys Crossroads, where another shelter had room for them.
Because of the cold weather and high demand, the shelter’s normal 4 p.m. to 9 a.m. operating hours have been suspended and it is running round-the-clock, Sibert said. The daytime drop-in center in Shirlington has also experienced higher-than-normal usage, with 25 to 30 people staying there at a time. Volunteers have been calling or stopping by both places to donate hot food, cold-weather clothing and bedding, which is always in demand, Sacharko said.
In the District, several homeless people sought warmth at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library downtown. Some sat at computers, their bags at their feet, while others headed to the Art and Music room on the second floor to read. Different shelters had dropped them off there.