WEATHER: The Big Freeze

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More industrialized and energy-dependent than other areas, the Middle Atlantic states from New York south worried about the potential impact of continued cold and dwindling fuel supplies. So far, so good—relatively speaking. Buried under record snowfalls, northern New York did close schools heated by gas. Residents of the Buffalo area were asked to set thermostats at a shivering 55°. Two General Motors plants near Buffalo and a Bethlehem Steel factory near Lackawanna closed their doors. But much-maligned Con Edison, which lights up most of the New York megalopolis, had its day in the cold. The giant utility, which has generated criticism for high prices and erratic service, was meeting its commitments and even urging New Yorkers to share electricity with other states that had helped them in past crises. Much of the city's suffering was caused by one perennial problem: highly taxed landlords who were unable—or too stingy—to keep antiquated furnaces repaired and fueled. More than 10,000 complaints a day overwhelmed a city hall office empowered to investigate claims of inadequate heat, make the necessary repairs and bill landlords later. Keeping up was so hopeless that five centers were opened in churches and community buildings to house anyone in danger of freezing. Some 200 refugees found shelter.

Out in New York harbor, the Coast Guard waged a bitter struggle to keep shipping lanes open to the nation's busiest port. Sandy Hook Channel, one of the two main passageways, finally was closed as the unusually heavy ice submerged or moved navigational buoys. No one wanted to risk yet another major oil-tanker disaster. Icebreakers rammed their curved prows against ice up to 18 in. thick to keep the Hudson open as far north as Albany. Surprisingly, the faithful Staten Island ferry kept moving Manhattan workers in comfort to their jobs across the windswept harbor.

In New Jersey, Governor Brendan Byrne summoned the state's nearly forgotten civil defense workers to canvass commercial buildings and offer advice on how to reduce gas usage. School Superintendent Frank Mastoraki of Bridgeton, N.J., played out an exhausting daily ritual that was becoming commonplace for many school officials. He asked local police to telephone him at 4 a.m. with information on road and weather conditions so that he could decide by 6 a.m. whether to open his schools on schedule. Alternating conditions of snow, ice and fog made roads perilous for students who drove cars or rode buses.

After experiencing the coldest November in 66 years, Delaware endured a below-normal December and seemed headed for its most frigid January in history. The state's electricity consumption reached an alltime winter high. Home TV pictures shrank slightly in the Baltimore area when voltage was cut by 5% to conserve energy. Maryland woods were sprinkled with thousands of dead birds, which were unable to penetrate the icy snow to reach food. Stores were running out of rock salt to melt ice, but elderly women found a substitute to steady their steps on sidewalks: a scattering of kitty litter. In Aston Township, Pa., Ned Oppelt, 24, decided that it was too cold to risk a long walk home from a party, crawled into a Laundromat's king-sized clothes dryer—still cozy and warm from the day's tumbling —and slept the night through. Fortunately, no early arrival slammed the door or turned on the heat.


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