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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

At least 1 is killed in brutal cold blast across New York and New England


Street vendors in Queens serve hot food to waiting customers despite the especially cold weather, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.


By JENNA RUSSELL


People across the northeastern United States confronted the coldest temperatures seen in decades Saturday, as an Arctic air mass passed over the region, accompanied by powerful winds that drove wind chills to dangerous levels.


Frigid conditions demolished records set more than a century ago in Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, where lows hit minus 10 and minus 9 degrees Fahrenheit early Saturday, the National Weather Service reported. Temperatures plunged to 4 degrees in New York City, minus 6 in Hartford, Connecticut, and minus 15 in Concord, New Hampshire. with the wind making it feel much colder everywhere.


At least one death was attributed to the weather system. In western Massachusetts on Friday, a tree fell and crushed a vehicle in Southwick, west of Springfield, and killed an infant passenger. The 23-year-old driver, the victim’s aunt, suffered serious injuries, according to a statement from the office of the district attorney in Hampden County.


At the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, the region’s highest peak, the low of minus 47 degrees at 4 a.m. Saturday tied the previous record set in 1934. Wind chills approached minus 110 degrees, and were likely among the coldest ever recorded, though staff at the weather observatory atop the 6,288-foot peak said they do not keep long-term wind chill data, and could not confirm the record.


Venturing outside onto the mountain to track the system Friday, Francis Tarasiewicz, a staff meteorologist at the Mount Washington Observatory, encountered wind that sounded like a roaring freight train. “There were pieces of ice flying around, lots of ducking and dodging,” he said. “I had a tiny, millimeter-wide area of skin exposure, and it felt like a bee sting.”


Conditions moderated by late Saturday, and the deep cold was expected to subside by Sunday. In the meantime, government officials opened warming shelters, issued warnings about frostbite and hypothermia, and urged people to stay inside. Saturday morning, 18,000 customers in Maine and New York state were without electricity, according to the website poweroutage.us; by afternoon, power had been restored to all but 5,000.


“This is one of the coldest events that we’ve seen in years,” said Miro Weinberger, mayor of Burlington, Vermont. “We’re encouraging people to stay indoors.”


Mayor Michelle Wu of Boston declared a cold emergency through Sunday, while in New York, a Code Blue was in effect, meaning that no one seeking shelter would be denied.


Concern about the fate of people living on the streets spurred an all-hands outreach effort in Boston, where dozens of city and agency workers fanned out last week to urge those without housing to plan for the cold. In the end, only 10 people chose to spend Friday night outdoors in the city’s largest tent encampment, while more than 100 others were safely sheltered, said Tania Del Rio, director of the city’s coordinated response team.


“We were very worried,” Del Rio said. “We know these people by name. We know their stories and we care about them, and we know some people would rather stay outside.”


In Portland, Maine, a shelter set up to serve 75 people saw 92 show up seeking warmth overnight Friday and into Saturday morning, a city spokesperson said. Chairs were set up to accommodate the extra turnout.


The core of the Arctic air mass passed over northern New England, where residents pride themselves on cold-weather endurance. But the combination of frigid cold and high winds forced some to make rare accommodations.


Wildcat Mountain, a 4,000-foot peak in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, closed to skiers for a second consecutive day Saturday, citing risks from the adverse conditions. Other ski mountains, including Sugarloaf in western Maine, where the temperature was minus 21 at 9 a.m. Saturday, limited chairlift operations.


The National Weather Service in Caribou, Maine, said in a tweet Friday that it had received reports of “frostquakes,” tremors in the earth, similar to earthquakes but caused by sudden cracks in frozen soil.


In Burlington, the annual Penguin Plunge — in which participants leap into icy Lake Champlain to raise money for the Special Olympics — was canceled and replaced with safer, remote activities. An opening event Friday night for the Quebec Winter Carnival, which draws tens of thousands of people to outdoor activities in the Canadian city, was also canceled.


Still, for some New Englanders who have lamented the milder temperatures and lack of snow so far this winter, the cold snap meant a brief return to beloved winter hobbies before temperatures skyrocket back up this week. Highs near 50 degrees were expected in Boston today.


Adam Zlatkus, 31, headed out with skates and a hockey stick to a frozen pond in Boston’s Public Garden for several hours Saturday morning, unbothered by the cold. Before this weekend, he said, the weather had been too warm for the pond to ice over properly.


“I actually took off a layer,” he said.


Across the northern reaches of the region — and even in parts of Manhattan — some expressed a stoicism about the cold.


Marco Nasso, 38, was bundled in a fluffy hood as he walked his similarly dressed dog, Cesar, in midtown Manhattan on Saturday morning. Nasso, who hails from Italy, seemed largely unfazed by the chill.


“That’s how it’s supposed to be, winter in New York,” he said with a shrug, adding that it hadn’t affected his weekend plans. “There’s people living in Alaska!”


In New Hampshire, too, many residents brushed aside the wintry weather. Navigating the discomfort without fuss is part of their Granite State identity, some said.


“It’s brutal, but it’s what I signed up for, and I love it,” said one Durham postal worker as she headed out to make deliveries Saturday.


In Millinocket, Maine, the cold drove some to desperate measures. Kelly Gardner, a physician assistant, said she and her family usually ski, ice fish or play in the snow on winter weekends. The prospect of staying indoors instead, with three active kids under age 6, was more than she wanted to manage.


“We’re headed to a hotel with a pool in Bangor with friends for an overnight,” Gardner said.

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