Shared from the 1/29/2019 Mon Valley Independent eEdition

Valley braces for extreme cold

Forecast for this week calls for wind chills well below zero.

After sunshine and moderate temperatures on Monday, Mon Valley residents should get ready to bundle up as subzero conditions move in. A hazardous weather outlook was issued Monday morning by the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh.

According to the release, Allegheny, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties are among several others that will be affected by snow and bitter cold temperatures beginning today.

Evan Bookbinder, a meteorologist with the NWS in Pittsburgh, said a cold front will sweep cooler air into the region, bringing a rain/snow mix behind it.

Bookbinder said the precipitation will turn into a slushy mix this morning with less than one inch of snow accumulating in the Mon Valley area.

However, conditions could worsen as the temperature begins to drop, creating the potential for flash freezing. Bookbinder said temperatures will continue to drop tonight, reaching the single digits by Wednesday morning.

The coldest conditions, expected Wednesday night into Thursday morning, will see air temperatures reach the range of 3 to 15 degrees below zero.

Wind chill temperatures could bottom out between 15 and 35 degrees below zero. Recent temperatures are normal for this time of year, Bookbinder said, adding that temperatures usually fall below zero once or twice each winter.

“We have been seeing pretty normal air temperatures. I don’t think we will be breaking any records,” he said. “Usually when air temperatures drop that low, it is before the sun comes up. With this system, the briskness is coming at the same time as the coldness.”

Typically when temperatures are low in the mornings, the wind is relatively calm. “This is a rare situation when the worst of the cold front is coming with quite a bit of wind,” Bookbinder said. “This will push the forecast for Thursday up to 25 degrees below zero, which is dangerously cold.”

“There is really not a benefit in delaying school because the conditions will be worse for students by 9 a.m. in a delay situation.”
EVAN BOOKBINDER
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE

Schools

School closings and delays are likely because of the temperature.

“Wind is usually lightest in the morning and increases throughout the day,” Bookbinder said. “It becomes gustier as the sun breaks, making conditions worse for students waiting outside. Typically we see delays because of cleaning roads or, as I said, to warm up buses.

“I am expecting to see more full-day cancellations because there is really not a benefit in delaying school because the conditions will be worse for students by 9 a.m. in a delay situation.”

Charleroi Area Superintendent Dr. Ed Zelich said by Monday afternoon he had already received an e-mail from the director of Washington County Public Safety and was beginning to follow updates with the NWS.

Zelich said he and other district administrators monitor weather conditions around the clock to make timely decisions for the best interests of students, faculty and staff.

He added that several factors are considered when making decisions to close or delay school.

“There are a lot of different things involved that we have to think about,” Zelich said. “We try to make fair and sound decisions on what is best for our kids, keeping in mind that we want to get in as much teaching as possible.

“With weather like this predicted, we are basically on call 24/7 and we don’t mind that because we know the earlier we are able to make these decisions the better parents and guardians are able to prepare.”

Warming stations Several communities have announced warming centers to help residents find shelter from the cold.

Monessen will have a warming center from 9 a.m. Wednesday to 5 p.m. Friday at the Salvation Army at 308 Schoonmaker Ave. A backup location will be at the Monessen Civic Center at 861 Donner Ave.

In Allegheny County, the Winter Shelter for anyone experiencing homelessness, located at Smithfield United Church of Christ, 620 Smithfield St., will be open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. to provide temporary, overnight accommodations, professional social services, medical care and protection from frigid temperatures.

The Winter Shelter, a low-barrier shelter serving both men and women, is open every night through March 15, including weekends and holidays, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., regardless of the temperature.

The City of McKeesport will offer a warming station at the Palisades, 100 Fifth Ave., from 8 a.m. Wednesday until noon Friday. Those in need are asked to report to the McKeesport Police Department at 201 Lysle Blvd. or call the warden’s desk at 412-675-5015 for permission to enter the building.

Freezing pipes

The cold, which can cause headaches for those who travel or work outside can also affect homes and businesses.

A primary concern, Bookbinder said, is freezing pipes, which could result in water main breaks.

Water pipes on exterior walls and in places that are subject to cold, such as in the basement, attic and under kitchen cabinets, freeze most often.

The water, which expands as it freezes, causes pipes to burst.

“That is one of our biggest concerns,” he said. “We are expecting a number of water line breaks throughout the region because a lot of pipes and infrastructure in our area are older and not buried as deep as newer pipes.”

A spokesperson for Pennsylvania American Water, which services a large area of the Valley, said if a faucet is turned on and a trickle comes out, the pipes are likely frozen. If that happens, the water needs to be shut off immediately.

To thaw pipes, apply heat by warming the air around them or apply heat directly to a pipe. Pipes can be warmed using a space heater, heating pad, electric hair dryer or hot water on a cloth, but never with an open flame.

The heating process can be continued until water pressure returns to normal, but a plumber should be called if issues persist.

Once the pipes have thawed, the water can be slowly turned back on and residents can begin to check for cracks and leaks.

To avoid pipes freezing, a small trickle of water should be left on during sub-zero temperatures.

Cabinet doors can also be left open to expose pipes to warmer room temperatures to help keep them from freezing.

Residents should check furnaces before temperatures drop to make sure everything is working, Bookbinder added.

“It is important to have an emergency plan if a furnace fails,” he said. “The absence of heat, even in a well-insulated house, will still lose warmth pretty quickly. With temperatures we are expecting, it is definitely not a situation where you want to end up huddled around a space heater or candle.”

Even indoors, problems could arise as a result of cold temperatures if power is lost, he added.

“Residents using a generator, or alternate heat source, need to take proper precautions,” Bookbinder said. “Generators always need to be run outside to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.”

The weather service also offered tips for those who will have to travel during the cold spell.

Driving

Temperatures expected later this week could cause problems for drivers as car batteries die, leaving them stranded if not properly prepared and at risk of developing hypothermia or frostbite. The NWS is encouraging drivers to travel during the warmest parts of the day and to make sure vehicles have at least a half tank of gas to keep them warm in the event of an emergency.

Vehicle “survival kits” should be updated and restocked, too.

Survival kits are boxes kept in vehicles with necessities such as jumper cables, flash lights, first aid kits, baby essentials, non-perishable food, water, a tool kit, pet supplies, shovels, ice scrapers, sand, clothing, blankets or sleeping bags and charges for electronic devices.

Medical conditions

Hypothermia and frostbite can happen quickly in temperatures like the region is anticipating.

“With the temperatures and the wind chill we are expecting, frostbite can occur in a matter of a few minutes,” Bookbinder said. “This is extreme cold for this area, so people should have multiple layers of clothing protecting their bodies, including their face, if outside exposure is unavoidable.”

During the coldest temperatures on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, he recommends sheltering from the wind as much as possible for people who have to go outside.

Once inside, it’s important to change into dry clothing immediately if you are wet, the NWS website said.

Dr. Jason Wong, a physician in the emergency department at Jefferson Hospital, said injuries from cold temperatures aren’t common in the Pittsburgh region, but increase when temperatures drop below zero.

Groups such as the elderly, disabled and children face the highest risk in these conditions.

Certain medical conditions and medications that can make people more prone to cold injuries. Wong said peripheral artery disease, which affects blood flow, is a primary example.

“People suffering from a condition that affects their blood flow would experience symptoms of hypothermia or frostbite much more quickly,” Wong said.

Medications such as opioids, psychiatric medications, beta-blockers and anti-depressants can also affect how someone responds to cold temperatures.

Symptoms of frostbite include numbness to extremities, difficulty moving extremities and changing color of skin, which could lead to amputation in severe cases. Not all cases of frostbite require immediate medical attention. To treat the beginning, warm the extremity by placing it under lukewarm water for about 15 minutes. After taking it out of the water, if the color and feeling has returned, additional treatment is not necessary. However, if there has been no change it is important to seek medical attention.

In conditions expected this week, Wong said frostbite could occur within minutes. Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion.

Confusion can lead to paradoxical undressing, a phenomenon seen in cases of lethal hypothermia where the person undresses as if they were burning up instead of freezing.

If the hypothermia worsens, it can lead to coma or death. Hypothermia happens when someone’s body temperature drops below 95 degrees and can occur indoors.

If someone is suffering from hypothermia bring the victim into a warm room, remove wet or frozen clothing, place them in warm blankets or a tub of warm, not hot, water.

If the victim is conscious, give them non-alcoholic hot liquids and call for emergency medical assistance.

While complications from cold temperature injuries can be severe, Wong said residents in our region prepare for the cold.

“These are things we typically see when extreme temperatures, such as the ones pictures this week, are predicted,” Wong said. “But even then, generally speaking people do a good job of protecting themselves.”

As people prepare to deal with chilling temperatures this week, the same precautions goes for four-legged companions. The NWS said pets should not be outside for more than a few minutes.

“Any living creature suffers from cold and wind exposure just like humans do,” Bookbinder said. “During this time you should not be leaving pets outside longer than it takes to do their business. Playing outside, even if they seem to enjoy it, could be dangerous.”

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