Winter found us yesterday, and it found us unprepared.
Anyone who thought spring was going to follow directly on the heels of fall to pay us back for last year's snows and shivers, learned otherwise when a blast of cold air swept in from the Midwest, dropping temperatures at National Airport from Tuesday afternoon's high of 60 degrees to yesterday morning's low of 13.
Hundreds of car doors were iced shut, and hundreds of locks said not to keys, as sharp winter winds drove the chill factor down to nearly 30 below zero. Some motorists had to chip away a glaze of ice before facing up to the ugly business of starting engines that had gone into hiberation.
A spokesman for the American Automobile Association said the agency had received 500 service calls by 8 a.m. yesterday. Some callers had a wait of from two to three hours, although most were helped more quickly the spokesman said.
The most common problems, according to the AAA, stemmed from dead batteries, frozen locks and broken radiator and heater hoses.
U.S. Park Police reported that 65 cars had broken down on the Baltimore-Washington and George Washington parkways yesterday morning, tying up rush hour traffic.Most of these crippled vehicles, park police said, were suffering form frozen gas lines or broken hoses.
D.C. police reported at least one apparent death as a result of the cold. A man identified as Bernard Ferguson, 52, of no fixed address, was picked up by police and taken to the city-run Detoxification Center and then to Howard University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead yesterday morning.
A D.C. fireman was injured last night when he slipped and fell on ice at Second and L streets SE. Ronald Brandon, 35, was reporte din fair condition at Washington Hospital Center with back injuries. Fire officials said Brandon, who had responded to a false alarm, was unconscious for several minutes after the fall.
Fire department spokesmen said early today that prior to midnight they logged 27 reports of broken water pipes -- 12 in Fairfax County, nine in Washinngton and three each in Arlington and Montgomery County.
In northern Arlington County yesterday afternoon, high winds tangled electrical wires that short-circuited and burned out, leaving about 2,400 homes without electricity for about three hours, a spokesman for Virginia Elecrtic and Power Co. said.
In Columbia, Md., early yesterday, workmen attempting to restore power to about 1,500 homes in the communities of Longreach and Owen Brown struggled with frozen switch gear when they tried to reroute service to those areas, and to repair a broken cable there. Power was restored about nine hours later, said a spokesman for Baltimore Gas and Electric Company.
For the Washington area, the National Weather Service is forecasting clear, cold weather over the next three days with low temperatures averaging in the mid-20s. By Sunday, low temperatures here are expected to move into the 30s, with a chance of rain or snow, according to the weather service.
The AAA, which says that 65 percent of its service calls deal with car batteries, suggested that a car that will not be used for a two- or threeday weekend be started at least once a day to prevent moisture from collecting in the ignition and on battery cables.
A car battery functions at optimum efficiency at 80 degrees, according to the AAA. If the temperature dops to 32 degrees, the battery performs at only 65 percent of its capacity. Meanwhile, the car engine needs 155 percent more "cranking power" to get started.
The agency suggested that motorists purchase a hydrometer, a device resembling a medicine dropper, which permits the simple check of car battery strength by checking battery acid.