Tonawanda News

January 3, 2014

DEEP FREEZE

Region could break record low today;wind chills to dip far below 0

By Jill Keppeler jill.keppeler@tonawanda-news.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Western New Yorkers aren’t precisely strangers to cold weather, but this could be a record-breaker.

With a winter storm warning in effect until 6 a.m. today and a wind chill advisory in effect through noon today for Niagara and northern Erie counties and other portions of Western New York, it could be a chilly day indeed for the region. 

The National Weather Service in Buffalo predicted a “bitterly cold airmass” would drop across the region Thursday night and linger throughout today, along with a “widespread and prolonged winter storm” bringing blowing snow through the morning. Wind chills could get as low as 20 degrees below zero in Western New York.

“It’s going to be a cold one,” said Dan Kelly of the National Weather Service Buffalo office.

The low temperature record for Feb. 2 in the Buffalo region was -2, set in 1970, while today’s record — unless it’s already been broken — is -1, set in 1981. Though the National Weather Service’s forecast lows for the area are still a few degrees above that (0 degrees on Thursday, 2 degrees today), Kelly said, it’s going to be close.

In addition, another 4 to 8 inches of snow could be dumped on the area by this morning by that winter storm, making for one unpleasant task for those brushing, scraping or shoveling out their vehicles this morning.

With the temperatures this low, the potential for frostbite or hypothermia is heightened, and even minutes unprotected in the chill could cause injury, said Dr. Raquel Martin, chief of emergency medicine at Kenmore Mercy Hospital. While layers help, any exposed skin runs the risk of frostbite — and as the time increases so does the risk of hypothermia, the cooling of the core body temperature.

“Your body’s natural response is to send less blood to the surface because it wants to keep the warm blood in the middle of your body and not send it out to get cold and prevent hypothermia; that decreased circulation makes that skin more vulnerable to actually freezing,” she said.

Signs of frostbite are white or grayish-yellow skin, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy and numbness. Warning signs of hypothermia are shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness.

“Spend a little too much time outside, even if it’s not that cold out and you could wind up taking a trip to the emergency room,” Martin said. “Cooling your body temperature just one or two degrees colder than normal could be very serious and you should seek medical care.”

Limiting the amount of skin exposed to the cold is the best to prevent frostbite, but if it does strike, lukewarm water is the best treatment, Martin said. 

After a few days of deep cold, however, there’s some relief for weekend in sight, Kelly of the National Weather Service said. As of Thursday, the forecast high for Saturday was 30 degrees, while the forecast high for Sunday was 35 to 36 degrees.

COLD SAFETY TIPS • Wear layers of lightweight clothing to stay warm. Gloves and a hat will help prevent losing body heat. • After the storm, be extremely careful if you have to shovel snow. It is physically strenuous work, so take frequent breaks and stay hydrated. • Don't forget pets - bring them indoors in cold weather. If pets can't come inside, make sure they have enough shelter to keep them warm and that they can get to unfrozen water. • Avoid frozen pipes. Run water, even at a trickle, to help prevent them from freezing. Open the kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals out of the reach of children. Keep the garage doors closed if there are water lines in the garage. • If travel is necessary, keep a disaster supplies kit in your vehicle which includes a shovel, blanket, flashlight, water, snacks, first aid kit and extra batteries. • Keep the gas tank full. A full tank will keep the fuel line from freezing. • Never use a stove or oven to heat your home. • If using a space heater, place it on a level, hard surface and keep anything flammable at least 3 feet away. Turn off space heaters and make sure fireplace embers are out before leaving the room or going to bed. • Use generators correctly. Never operate a generator inside the home, including in the basement or garage. •· Don't hook a generator up to the home's wiring. The safest thing to do is to connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. For additional tips, visit www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/winter-storm. Source: American Red Cross, Western New York/Finger Lakes Region