Washington shivered yesterday in the icy clutches of one of the coldest days in recent years as arctic air poured across the eastern half of the nation and forced the mercury here down to two degrees below zero, setting a record for the date.
The onslaught of cold weather, which prompted the cancellation of today's inaugural parade, shut down most of the city's normal activity yesterday, forcing most area residents to remain indoors and disrupting Metro subway schedules.
With about an inch of snow on the ground from a morning storm, and relentless northwest winds that continued throughout the day, Washington was locked in a wind-chilled deep-freeze that appeared likely to set another low temperature record for today.
The frigid severity of yesterday's weather was blamed for scattered power failures, and for some frostbite among personnel involved in inaugural preparations. It also raised concern for the homeless.
The office of Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler called the Community for Creative Non-Violence, which provides shelter for street people, asking how she could help, according to spokeswomen for both CCNV and HHS.
"It was so cold and people are freezing out there," said an HHS spokeswoman.
A plan was worked out for HHS to obtain 300 blankets from the Defense Department and deliver them to the CCNV shelter in the 400 block of Second Street NW. Many of the blankets, which were to be turned over by today, would be provided to street people who remained outdoors, said CCNV spokeswoman Carol Fennelly.
Although the number of persons spending the night at city shelters could not be learned immediately, Fennelly said about 800 or 900 people -- a larger than normal number -- spent part of the day in the CCNV "drop-in" day shelter.
Part of the attraction, she said, were television sets lent to permit viewing of the Super Bowl.
City police and fire officials said they knew of no serious injuries or illness connected with the weather. Despite the hazards posed by a wind-chill factor equal to 25 degrees below zero, officials at at least two large hospitals said they had seen no cold-related problems.
"I think that most people are staying inside," said Dr. Mark Smith, chief of the department of emergency medicine at the George Washington University Medical Center. "If they are venturing out," he added, it was "only for short periods," and with proper attire.
He advised those who are outside today to interpret pain in an exposed area of the body as a first sign of possible frostbite. Those affected, he said, should get inside or use a gloved hand to cover the area involved.
Many of those who were outdoors yesterday appeared to be out-of-towners who came for the inaugural events and were determined to make the best of their visit.
Between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., 31 buses disgorged tourists near the Lincoln Memorial, according to National Park Service park technician Bruce Stapel. The number, he said, "seems to be up a little bit."
A series of problems on the Metro subway system led officials to shut down the Yellow Line for the day, and use its cars elsewhere on the system, according to Metro spokeswoman Beverly Silverberg.
Blue Line trains served all but the Archives stop on the Yellow Line, she said.
She said some trains were delayed or taken out of service after snow was ingested in their motors, which short-circuited. Wind-blown snow also caused electrical problems with door signal mechanisms and kept trains from moving.
Silverberg said Metro officials expected to provide full service today starting at 6:30 a.m.
The old low temperature record for Jan. 20 was 8 degrees set in 1940. The all time low here is -15 degrees, reached Feb. 11, 1899.
The mercury today is expected to climb no higher than the teens. Winds are expected in the 15 to 25 mile an hour range. Forecasters predicted tomorrow's highs would be around 30 degrees.