Nasty winds from the Northwest yesterday shut down the Washington Monument, triggered alarms in 35 Fairfax office buildings before noon, and plastered 42-pound Kate Richardson to the Old Post Office Building.
Kate, a first grader from Bayonne, N.J., found that the 20-degree weather and 39 mile an hour winds changed not only her plans, but also her direction.
She came to town this weekend to write a report on the nation's capital, but the Washington Monument was closed and other spots were too cold to visit.
Then, as she walked past the Old Post Office Building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW with Paul Campbell, her Dupont Circle host, a powerful gust, Campbell said, "immobilized her against the building."
"It's a little bit chillier than I thought," said Kate, bundled in parka, hat and mittens.
Considering the wind chill factor, the region froze in temperatures that felt like 5 to 12 degrees below zero, said National Weather Service forecaster Calvin Meadows.
The coldest Feb. 13 on record was 2 degrees in 1917.
Today, calmer winds and temperatures in the low 40s are expected.
Fearful that the bitter winds that brought white-capped waves to the Potomac could prove lethal to those with no warm place to sleep, District officials were on alert in case more space was needed to house the homeless. They said they would open the lobby of the District Building if shelters and the former Randall School building became full.
Friday night, 102 people slept on cots in the Randall School building at First and I streets SW, bused there from overflowing shelters.
Thirteen District residents, including seven homeless people, have died of hypothermia this winter.
Ernest Taylor, director of the Office of Emergency Shelter and Support Services, said the city "cannot force a person to come to shelter" against the person's will, but he urged people to call the Hypothermia Hotline at 727-3250 if they knew someone who needs a warm place to sleep.
The high winds also kept District and suburban police busy answering office and business alarms that were accidentally set off.
In four hours, Fairfax County police Lt. Steve Craven said, he counted 35 false alarms triggered by gusts that had rattled doors and windows. Then he stopped tallying them: "They're a fact of life on windy days. We have to answer every single one as if it were the real thing."
Some brave souls, however, weren't deterred by the weather. Just as the Winter Olympics were getting under way in Calgary, Herbert Hemmerich donned his warmest clothes and ran from Falls Church to Georgetown to benefit the Special Olympics.
Hemmerich, a District resident who has run the mile in the Special Olympics, joined others who braced themselves against the wind along Rte. 29 and across Key Bridge.
"It was so windy we all wore glasses," said Kieron Mooney, a bartender at Champions in Georgetown, which sponsored the race.
After the one-hour, 45-minute run, Mooney said he was ready to "sit down with a Grand Marnier, a beer and a hot meal."
At Hains Point, the park was deserted, except for the Stewarts.
Avid bird watchers, Dave and Odette James Stewart braved the cold in hopes of sighting seagulls that appeared inland only when the winds kicked up.
As the family sat in their van, binoculars in hand, 9-year-old Jeffrey Stewart lured dozens of birds closer to his parents by feeding them bread.
"Yes, I'm freezing," Jeffrey said. "But I want to make the birds happy."