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The Herald-Mail

How cold could it get around Hagerstown this Friday, Saturday?

By Julie E. Greene, The Herald-Mail,


With wind chills forecasted to be around zero overnight Friday into Saturday, Washington County officials and organizations are making plans to accommodate the homeless population for extended hours.

At the same time, the county government's emergency management officials continue to update the county's severe weather plan. That work was underway before the frigid cold spell over Christmas weekend, but drew more attention following criticism of planning for that weather event.

The National Weather Service is calling for wind chills — what it actually feels like — to reach around zero in Washington County and the nearby West Virginia Eastern Panhandle overnight into Saturday, said meteorologist Cody Ledbetter with the Baltimore/Washington forecast office.

Wind chills could reach between zero and 5 below in southern Franklin County, Pa., said meteorologist Joe Bauco with the State College, Pa., forecast office.

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Unlike Christmas weekend, this Arctic cold front from the Great Lakes area is expected to be short-lived, said meteorologist Luis Rosa with the Baltimore/Washington forecast office.

Wind chills are forecast to be in the teens during the day Saturday in the Tri-State area, with temperatures reaching the 40s on Sunday.

Where to go if you need shelter from the cold in the Hagerstown area

Two weather shelters for the homeless — Goodwill's youth shelter and Reach of Washington County's cold weather shelter — are planning to extend their hours so overnight visitors can stay during the day Saturday to keep warm, said Mark Sewell with Community Action Council. As continuum of care lead for the county, Sewell works with agencies that serve the local homeless population.

Goodwill also is opening a warming station for anyone in need from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at 200 N. Prospect St., Sewell said. There will be places to sit as well as water and snacks.

Goodwill's youth shelter, on Broadway in Hagerstown, is in its second year and serves ages 18 to 24 as well as youth with children, Sewell said. Technically an overnight shelter, Goodwill officials will allow clientele to stay during the day Saturday with the extreme cold expected.

Any individual children younger than 18 in need of shelter are connected with the Department of Social Services, he said.

Reach of Washington County's cold weather shelter is at 140 W. Franklin St. in downtown Hagerstown for men and women. The shelter is planning to be in "overflow status" Friday night into Saturday and allow folks to stay during the day Saturday, Sewell said.

The Hope Center in Hagerstown, also known as the Union Rescue Mission, is keeping its doors open at 125 N. Prospect St. from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. for anyone looking to get off the street or for a meal, Sewell said. The center, which provides overnight shelter for men, recently started the daily daytime hours after shelter officials saw a need, he said. The Hope Center provides lunch and evening meals.

Reach and The Hope Center serve the largest percentage of the local homeless population and work closely to coordinate services, Sewell said. The rescue mission could take some of Reach's male guests to free up more space for women at Reach's shelter, if needed, he said. The two groups also coordinate with Goodwill's youth shelter.

St. John's family shelter on Randolph Avenue was full as of Tuesday, Sewell said.

CASA, or Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused, had room in its emergency shelter as of Tuesday, Sewell said. While CASA is not a cold weather shelter, other shelters who receive anyone dealing with a domestic violence issue could coordinate with CASA for services, Sewell said.

Will the Salvation Army shelter in Hagerstown be open?

The Salvation Army's women's and children's shelter in Hagerstown's West End, which has been closed since early November, is reopening at 4 p.m. Thursday, in time for this weekend's cold spell, Major Donald Wilson said. People who need the shelter’s services can go to The Salvation Army’s administrative office at 525 George St. to be taken to the shelter.

Washington County Emergency Management Director Tom Brown said his office will continue to monitor the cold weather event, however long it lasts.

If there's a need, Brown said a warming center could be opened in a specific area. Usually that isn't done ahead of time because officials need to learn where the need is, he said. Emergency management officials will watch for potential power outages affecting a large number of people and the volume of 911 calls for people needing shelter from the cold.

Friday is expected to be the windiest day in this stretch with weather service meteorologists forecasting sustained winds around 20 mph to 25 mph and gusts in the 30s and up to 40 mph.

The local forecast for Friday into Saturday does not call for precipitation.

Has Washington County updated its severe weather plan?

The county's severe weather plan came under some criticism in December from then-Hagerstown Mayor Emily Keller and city Fire Chief Steve Lohr following a Christmas weekend when temperatures reached the single digits, with wind chills below zero from mid-Friday into Christmas Eve night.

The Hagerstown Fire Department opened a warming station after Lohr heard from Community Rescue Service about shelters at or over capacity that Friday with the cold expected to continue through the weekend. Eight people used the warming site.

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Brown said county officials finished a draft plan in November to update the county's severe weather plan, but didn't share it with community partners until after the holidays because people are typically busy that time of year and wouldn't have had a chance to look at it and provide the feedback the county wanted.

A meeting was held in mid-January to distribute the draft plan for feedback, which was due last Friday. Brown said Tuesday that his office is going to review the feedback to see what, if feasible, can be incorporated into the severe weather plan.

Among the groups the draft update was shared with, and feedback requested from, were the Hagerstown Fire Department, Community Rescue Service, other City of Hagerstown staff, the county sheriff's office, the county's Division of Emergency Services, the American Red Cross, the county health department, Maryland Natural Resources Police, the Humane Society of Washington County, the Washington County Department of Social Services and others, Brown said.

The severe weather plan is an operational plan that is typically updated annually, Brown said. It was last updated about two or three years ago because emergency management shifted its resources to deal with the local COVID-19 pandemic response.

Most of the previous plan was still applicable, with some updates being made, Brown said. Updates include better defining what the county's emergency management office and Division of Emergency Services are responsible for now that they are separate offices, Brown said.

Other items that came out of the Jan. 12 meeting, according to an email from Brown, include:

  • Having emergency management continue to work with the county health department to support the homeless coalition as it updates its emergency sheltering plans.
  • Improving communication between all agencies was "recognized as being essential." Emergency management will start to conduct meetings, with affected agencies, prior to events to ensure emergency management activities are explained and to let agencies explain what actions they are taking and what their needs could be.
  • Having emergency management continue to work with the Red Cross to plan resource needs throughout the county, including the municipalities.
  • Having emergency management continue to update the county's severe weather plan.

As an operational plan, the full plan is not public and does not require public feedback, Brown said.

Addressing extreme cold or hot weather events, the operational plan has different phases for agencies to take steps and largely mirrors the state plan, he said.

Brown said emergency management's role is communication and coordination with various agencies during disasters and severe weather events. His office will coordinate so partner agencies understand what one another is doing and how their piece fits into the bigger picture during such events.

Recognizing the need from January's meeting to improve communication, Brown said he emailed Goodwill and Reach on Monday to make sure they were aware of the forecast for extreme cold and find out what, if any, additional actions the shelters were planning.

Officials responded quickly, noting that both shelters were planning to extend hours Saturday, he said.

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