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Extreme cold grips snowy Northeast; Midwest awaits ‘polar vortex’

By Rodrique Ngowi and Michelle R. Smith
Associated Press

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BOSTON: Homeowners and motorists dug out across the white-blanketed Northeast on Friday as extreme cold ushered in by the storm threatened fingers and toes but kept the snow powdery and mercifully easy to shovel. At least 15 deaths were blamed on the storm as it swept across the nation’s eastern half.

While the snowfall had all but stopped by morning across the hard-hit Philadelphia-to-Boston corridor and many highways and streets were soon plowed and reopened, temperatures were in the single digits and teens, with wind chills well below zero.

“The snow is easy to move because the air was so cold when it snowed that it’s sort of light and fluffy stuff — but, uh, it’s cold,” Avalon “Nick” Minton said as he cleared the entrance to his garage and sidewalk in Arlington, Mass. “That’s the main part. It’s cold.”

And officials from the Midwest to New England are preparing for another arctic blast in the next few days that could be even worse.

A “polar vortex,” as one meteorologist calls it, which will send cold air piled up at the North Pole down to the United States, funneling it as far south as the Gulf Coast.

The temperature predictions are startling: 25 below zero in Fargo, N.D., minus 31 in International Falls, Minn., and 15 below in Indianapolis and Chicago. At those temperatures, exposed skin can get frostbitten in minutes and hypothermia can quickly set in because wind chills could hit 50, 60 or even 70 below zero.

A forceful deep freeze will begin in many places on Sunday and extend into early next week. That’s thanks to a perfect combination of the jet stream, cold surface temperatures and the polar vortex — a counterclockwise-rotating pool of cold, dense air, said Ryan Maue, of Tallahassee, Fla., a meteorologist for Weather Bell.

“All the ingredients are there for a near-record or historic cold outbreak,” he said. “If you’re under 40 [years old], you’ve not seen this stuff before.”

The cold blast likely will freeze over the Great Lakes and other bodies of water, meaning frigid temperatures will likely last the rest of winter, Maue said.

Snow blankets cities

Winter kept an icy grip on the Northeast on Friday, as a snowstorm forced many cities to close schools.

The heaviest snow fell north of Boston in Boxford, which received nearly 2 feet. Nearly 18 inches fell in Boston and in western New York near Rochester. Lakewood, N.J., got 10 inches, and New York’s Central Park 6. Philadelphia got more than 6 inches.

Temperatures reached 8 below zero in Burlington, Vt., with a wind chill of 29 below, and 2 degrees in Boston. Wind chills there and in Providence, R.I., made it feel like minus-20 Friday morning, and the forecast called for more of the same into today.

Emergency officials warned that anyone spending more than a few minutes outdoors in such conditions could suffer frostbite.

Wellington Ferreira said the cold was worse than the snow as he cleared a sidewalk in front of Johnny D’s Uptown Restaurant and Music Club in Somerville.

“My ears are frozen,” he said.

Warming centers opened around the region, homeless shelters received more people, and cities took special measures to look after those most vulnerable to the cold. Teams in New York City searched the streets for homeless people, while in Boston police asked residents to call 911 if they saw someone in need.

In Newport, R.I., the Seaman’s Church Institute said it would stay open around the clock until the cold breaks to give mariners and others who work in or around the harbor a warm place to stay, shower and eat.

The light, powdery snow was a blessing in another respect: It did not weigh down electrical lines or tree limbs, and as a result there were only a few thousand power outages across the Northeast.

Slick roads were blamed for several traffic deaths. In addition, a 71-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s disease froze to death after she wandered away from her rural western New York home. And a worker in Philadelphia was killed when a 100-foot-high pile of road salt fell and crushed him.


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