Deadly, arctic cold grips the New York area

January 25, 2011 9:31:07 AM PST
The coldest weather of the season has had deadly consequences in parts of our area.

A 41 year old Fort Lee man died of hypothermia. Police say his body may have been inside his car two days before being found at the Palisades Mall.

In Connecticut, a 50 year old woman was found dead in her North Haven driveway. Police there say it looks like she fell Saturday night was unable to get help, and then froze to death.

These are extreme cases, but Dr. Matthew Weissman from Ryan-NENA Community Center says people need to be concerned about minor cold related injuries as well.

"Frost nip is really the lowest level of frost bite. The most exposed parts of the extremities of the body like fingertips, earlobes and nose tips. It's really the earliest stages. It's the ice crystals forming in the blood vessels and tissues without causing tissue damage," Weissman explained.

People who work outside don't take these dangerous conditions lightly, from first responders to construction workers to delivery crews.

Andre Messiah was busy loading and unloading equipment from his truck in the bitter cold on the Lower East Side.

"I keep the engine running. You keep the truck warm. You stay warm," he said.

Lisette Cardenas says she doesn't have a choice but to bundle up.

"I'm working because I got to pay the bills. But it's really cold. Really cold," she said.

The city doubled the number of outreach vans it sends out looking for homeless people in such cold, checking on street people every two hours.

"Our priority is to make sure they're safe and warm," said Seth Diamond, commissioner of the New York City's Department of Homeless Services.

The arctic blast caused problems all over the northeast. Train equipment froze, cars sputtered, schools canceled classes and cold-weather enthusiasts opted to stay inside.

The gasp-inducing cold tested the mettle even of New Englanders, who pride themselves on winter hardiness.

"Snot-freezing cold," was how Kelly Walsh, 28, described it, walking home from an auto parts store in Vermont's capital after buying a new battery for her car, which wouldn't start Monday morning. It was minus 21 there at 7 a.m.

"I usually really like it," she said. "Today is a bit of nuisance."

Schools in western and northeastern Pennsylvania, across upstate New York and parts of Vermont and New Hampshire closed their doors or delayed openings to protect students from temperatures that dropped to minus 27 or even lower.

Amtrak suspended service between Albany and New York City, saying the extreme cold affected signals and switches. It hoped to resume limited service on Tuesday.

"It takes your breath away if you're not ready for it," said Dan Giroux, shop tech at Northern Outfitters snowmobile rentals in Greenville, Maine, where the fleet was mostly idle because it was too cold for most folks.

In Providence, R.I., it dipped to minus 1 early Monday, the first below-zero reading there in six years, the National Weather Service said.

Even hat-shy teenagers were taking precautions.

"It's hard to get teenagers to bundle up, but even they're putting on their hats this morning," said Tim Scott, director of development at Fryeburg Academy, in Fryeburg, Maine, where it hit minus 28.

Skiers said "no thanks" at some resorts. At Maine's Sugarloaf, where a ski lift recently failed in windy weather and sent some riders to the hospital, the combination of cold and wind caused operators to shut down lifts to the summit. Four lower lifts were still running, however.

"We have a few people skiing - not many," said resort spokesman Ethan Austin. "There's a few hardy folks who want to get their turns in, no matter what."

Others took it in stride.

"It's a winter day in Maine," said Maude Gardner, of Allagash, in the northern part of the state, shrugging off a minus-24 reading Monday. After all, it was nothing compared to a minus-46 reading in January 2009.

The wind chill in some areas of New England was expected to make it feel as cold as minus 50. Wind chill advisories and warnings were also issued in upstate New York, including the Adirondack mountains, where Saranac Lake posted a reading of minus 36 early Monday.

In Philadelphia, a group of determined parents waited on a sidewalk overnight to enroll their children in kindergarten at a prestigious school run in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania. The Penn Alexander School eventually opened its doors, letting the parents in from the cold.