Emergency measures enacted as ‘epic’ blast of cold air moves into the Northeast
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By Aya Elamroussi, Joe Sutton and Mallika Kallingal, CNN
A brutal blast of dangerously cold winds is expected to sweep across the Northeast and New England on Friday, prompting officials to close schools and activate emergency plans as the region braces for record-breaking subzero temperatures.
Frigid air feeling as cold as 32 degrees Fahrenheit below zero across much of the region will combine with gusty winds, creating a nasty double whammy that could lead to frostbite in as little as 10 minutes in some areas.
“Temperatures in most regions will likely have their highest temperatures of the day before sunrise as temperatures will fall throughout the day Friday. Strong winds will bring dangerously cold temperatures, with the peak of the cold in the Northeast occurring late Friday to Saturday morning,” CNN Meteorologist Taylor Ward said.
The severe cold has put more than 15 million people in the region under wind chill warnings or advisories. Wind chill indicates how cold the air may feel, and the National Weather Service issues such warnings when winds are expected to feel as cold as 25 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.
The cold spell is expected to begin subsiding by Sunday when temperatures will likely rise again. In the meantime, officials across several states have begun imploring residents to stay indoors and have ramped up warming center efforts to accommodate some of the most vulnerable to the cold.
In New York City, “code blue” has gone into effect from Friday evening due to the expected extreme cold temperatures, according to a tweet from the city’s Department of Homeless Services.
It’s a designation which allows people to come into the city’s homeless shelter system on an emergency basis and directs New Yorkers to report people on the street as a safety measure.
“Temperatures are to go below freezing tonight. If you see anyone at risk, especially those living on the street, please call 311,” the city’s homeless services department tweeted.
As part of its outreach program, staff and providers partnered with the city will conduct outreach efforts to connect vulnerable, unsheltered New Yorkers to shelter.
“No one who is experiencing homelessness and seeking shelter in New York City during a Code Blue will be denied,” a spokesperson for the department said.
The city will also service “drop-in centers,” where New Yorkers experiencing unsheltered homelessness can be connected to permanent services.
The Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy and service organization that helps homeless individuals and families, estimates each night there are thousands of unsheltered homeless people sleeping on New York City streets, the subway and other public areas.
Farther north, officials in New York’s Erie County — home to Buffalo — also issued a code blue, which allows for those experiencing homelessness to seek shelter overnight when temperatures drop below 32 degrees. In addition to three overnight shelters in the county, there are also daytime warming centers available.
Additionally, schools in Buffalo, New York, and at least three districts in Massachusetts decided to cancel classes Friday as a precautionary measure for the safety of students and staff. The city of Boston is also under a cold emergency Friday through Sunday.
“With extreme weather conditions and many of our students commuting to and from school, walking and waiting for public transportation outdoors, we have made the decision to close for the day,” Boston Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper said in a statement.
The extreme cold is moving over Buffalo weeks after blizzard conditions wreaked havoc on Erie County during Christmas weekend, killing least 39 people. The South is also struggling with a deadly ice storm that made road conditions miserable this week, claiming the lives of at least eight people in two states.
“Please dress appropriately and don’t go out for extended periods in order to avoid frostbite or hypothermia,” Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said online.
In surrounding states, warming centers are expected to be available in Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Vermont, officials said.
Cannon Mountain Ski Resort in Franconia and Wildcat Mountain in Gorham, New Hampshire, are closed due to the extreme weather conditions, according to their Facebook pages.
In Vermont, several ski areas also turned away customers and shut down operations on Friday. Jay Peak, Smugglers’ Notch, Pico and Bolton Valley all posted closures on their Facebook pages.
The extreme cold will be felt in the Midwest, too, where seven states are under wind chill alerts: Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa.
“The dangerously cold wind chills could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 5 minutes,” said the National Weather Service in Duluth, Minnesota.
What to expect this weekend
All of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut are under wind chill alerts. Northern New Jersey, northeast Pennsylvania and much of New York state outside of New York City and Long Island are also under wind chill threat.
“Very dangerous wind chills are likely and widespread wind chill warnings and advisories are already in effect for all of New England and parts of the Northeast,” the National Weather Service said Thursday. “The potential exists for numerous record low temperatures Saturday morning.”
Maine will likely bear the brunt of the storm in terms of longevity as well as severity, with more than 70,000 people in the northern portion of the state under blizzard warnings, according to the National Weather Service.
“Extreme cold and wind producing dangerously low wind chills Friday into Saturday. Blizzard conditions in blowing snow across open areas,” the National Weather Service in Caribou, Maine, said.
Here’s what else is forecast in places with wind chill warnings:
- Bangor, Maine: Temperatures will begin dropping after midnight Friday and reach their low of minus 21 degrees Fahrenheit during the early morning hours Saturday.
- Boston: The winds will feel as cold as 32 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, with below-zero temperatures lasting from Friday night through Saturday morning.
- Burlington, Vermont: Temperatures will dip to minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit, with the coldest winds feeling like 41 degrees below zero.
- Manchester, New Hampshire: Temperatures will remain below zero beginning Friday evening into Saturday morning, with the coldest being minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit. The coldest winds will feel like 40 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.
- Mount Washington, New Hampshire: The highest peak in the Northeast may face gusts of over 130 mph early Saturday morning. This combined with temperatures of minus 40 degrees or lower will create wind chills as cold as minus 100 degrees.
Elsewhere, New York City will see single-digit temperatures, with the coldest point coming Saturday morning at 8 degrees. Winds could feel as cold as 7 degrees below zero, with Friday night into Saturday being the coldest period.
South still reeling from ice storm
Farther south, an ice storm lashed parts of several states including Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee this week.
Layers upon layers of ice, sleet and freezing rain over the course of multiple consecutive days made driving conditions life-threatening and snapped many tree branches and limbs that eventually knocked down power lines for tens of thousands.
As of early Friday, more than 250,000 homes and businesses in Texas were still without power following the storm, according to tracking site PowerOutage.us. About 60,000 homes and businesses in neighboring Arkansas were also in the dark.
The ice storm’s impact on roads made for deadly conditions this week.
In Oklahoma, two people were killed in separate crashes after they lost control of their trucks on icy roads.
And in Texas, three people were killed near Brownfield after a driver of a truck lost control Wednesday morning on an icy part of US Highway 380 and rolled into a ditch. The driver and two of his passengers were killed, the Texas Department of Public Safety said.
Another driver died near Eldorado, Texas, after losing control of her truck, the public safety department said.
One person was killed in a 10-car pile up in south Austin, the city’s fire department said.
In Arlington, Texas, one person was killed after their vehicle rolled over, police said.
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CNN’s Gloria Pazmino and Allison Chinchar contributed to this report.