Extreme cold brings challenges to York, Chester, Lancaster counties

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comJanuary 6, 2014 

  • What is ‘wind chill’?

    The National Weather Service has issued a wind chill advisory for York, Chester and Lancaster counties through noon Tuesday.

    “Wind chill” is the term used to describe the rate of heat loss on the human body resulting from the combined effect of low temperature and wind. As winds increase, heat is carried away from the body at a faster rate, driving down skin temperature and eventually, internal body temperature.

    A low wind chill can result in frostbite and hypothermia if precautions are not taken. The Weather Service recommends wearing a hat and gloves if you venture outdoors.

  • What’s next?

    The good news with all this frigid air is that it won’t last long, said National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Krentz. By Wednesday, temperatures should be more seasonable, although more rain is expected at the end of the week.

    The weather itself, through dramatic, isn’t cold enough to be really life-threatening, Krentz said, especially if people wear appropriate clothing.

    What to expect

    Tuesday – High: 25 degrees. Low: 13 degrees. Mild wind slowing down as the day goes on.

    Wednesday – High: 40 degrees. Low: 22 degrees. Little to no wind.

    Thursday – High: 47 degrees. Low: 36 degrees. Mild wind.

Agencies across York, Chester and Lancaster counties scrambled Monday to prepare for extreme weather as bitter cold moved in overnight – with temperatures expected to fall into the single digits.

Just as they do with other extreme weather, such as hurricanes or heat waves, community organizations have plans in place to prepare to handle the arctic chill, which could approach record levels.

Some schools delay opening

Several local school districts opted to open late Tuesday morning to protect their students from the early morning chill. York, Chester and Lancaster schools are operating on two-hour delays.

Schools in Rock Hill, Fort Mill and Clover, as well as York Preparatory Academy in Rock Hill, said Monday afternoon they would operate on normal schedules, but officials encouraged parents to make sure children were bundled up.

Morning, evening commutes

Ice and snow likely won’t be a factor this morning, so slick roads shouldn’t be a problem, said National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Krentz – although any water that’s still standing will freeze.

But weather this cold often takes a toll on vehicles, he said.

“There are going to be plenty of cars that don’t start up,” Krentz said.

Chester County Emergency Management Director Eddie Murphy suggests drivers keep a blanket in their cars in case they become stranded.

Emergency preparedness

Even though the air will be cold, one of the biggest risks during weather like this is actually fire, said Cotton Howell, York County’s emergency management director.

“We tend to have lots of people who get cold,” he said. “And they’re going to pull an old heater out that hasn’t been used in years.”

Heaters that are old or haven’t been checked recently for safety have a much higher risk of malfunctioning and causing fires, Howell said. People also tend to create bigger fires in fireplaces or burn unsafe materials.

Proper precautions need to be taken, Howell said.

“Sadly, we see a lot of fires and deaths associated with people just doing what they need to do to keep warm,” he said.

On Sunday, a 5-month-old baby in Rock Hill was taken to a burn center in Chapel Hill, N.C., for treatment of burns caused by having been placed too close to a heater.

In this type of weather many people will bring generators or gas grills indoors to heat their homes, Duke Energy spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said. That is extremely dangerous, because both give off carbon monoxide – an odorless and colorless gas that can be deadly.

In Chester County, Murphy said emergency crews are prepared for any challenges people faced as a result of the weather. He urged residents to take extra precautions.

Lancaster County opened an emergency heating shelter for people who don’t have heat or power. Fire Marshal Stephen Blackwelder encouraged residents to make sure they have enough fuel and to leave water faucets running at a trickle to help prevent pipes from freezing.

Utilities get a break

Local utility companies said they did not expect widespread outages as a result of the cold weather.

The rain stopped early Monday morning, so freezing was expected to be minimal and the number of tree limbs falling on power lines should be relatively low, Krentz said.

Still, extreme weather can put higher stress on equipment.

“It’s possible that pieces of equipment fail here and there across the system,” Sheehan said. “The most important thing is that we feel we are well-prepared to meet customers’ needs for energy.”

York Electric Cooperative also was confident in its ability to keep up with demand, said Marc Howie, vice president of community development.

“We do system maintenance throughout the year,” he said.

And if people are behind on their electric bills, most utility companies have a temperature threshold below which power to supply heat and electricity isn’t shut off. Overnight temperatures were expected to fall well below that threshold, Sheehan said.

Shelters, warming centers gear up

Local “warming centers” and shelters were expected to operate as normal overnight Monday, but Renew Our Community’s center in downtown Rock Hill is offering extended hours all week to eliminate the gap in protection from the elements.

Most shelters close at 8 a.m., but ROC Central doesn’t usually open until 10 a.m., then closes at 4 p.m. – two hours before the shelters re-open for the night. This week, ROC Central will open at 8 a.m. and won’t close until 6 p.m., director Iris Hubbard said.

ROC Central is in “overdrive mode,” she said.

Despite the fact that the agency’s van stopped working on Friday, volunteers are trying to provide transportation from the shelters to ROC Central so people won’t have to walk in the coldest weather in the morning and evening.

They’re seeking donations of coffee and snacks for people who rely on ROC Central during the day and they’re also strapped for another major resource – kerosene vouchers.

“Today, we’re like the grocery store for bread and milk, except that it’s kerosene people are after,” Hubbard said Monday afternoon. “Right now, our greatest need is helping those folks who have kerosene heaters heat their homes.”

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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