At Family Promise of Western New York, which helps homeless families with food, shelter and a helping hand, one family’s good news came with an asterisk Tuesday.
Dion and Bonita Matthews and their four children were finally moving into their own home – but they were doing it on one of the coldest days of the winter. For the fourth time this month, the daily high temperature – 7 degrees at around 4 p.m. – didn’t make it out of the single digits. Before Jan. 3, that hadn’t happened since 2009.
So, having the heat on was a priority.
“We’ve got the utilities on and are getting them switched to our name,” Dion Matthews said.
The frigid weather brings out concern for the well-being of others, who are more vulnerable and may not have a thermostat to turn up.
No serious weather-related injuries were reported Tuesday, and people – at least, those whose classes were not canceled – carried on in the bone-chilling cold.
One way or another, people were getting to where they needed to go, including to the Good Neighbors health care clinic on Jefferson Avenue.
“I thought it would be slower than it is,” said Dr. David Holmes, a volunteer at the clinic. “Most people are making it to their appointments.”
Holmes said the cold seemed to adversely affect people with asthma and or a chronic lung disease, but no cases of frostbite came his way.
“The schools did a good thing closing,” Holmes said. “It would be easy for kids at a bus stop to get frostbite, especially if the face is unprotected.”
Programs that make sure people get enough to eat held up as well. Only a handful of volunteers called off their routes at Meals on Wheels, according to Rachel Leidenfrost, the organization’s marketing director.
“We just found other people to take over,” she said.
So teams were out and about, dropping off hot meals and checking on their customers, most of whom live alone.
While some volunteers couldn’t make it because they had trouble dealing with the cold, a number of other people – parents – were forced to stay home because of school closings.
Downtown Buffalo’s streets had plenty of people bundled up and carrying on. One man stood out: He walked down the street carrying a barometer.
No, Chris Pinto is not a weather fanatic. He had just left his jewelry business and was taking home some of the decor, since the shop is closing Friday. In the time it took him to cross the street, the thermometer on the wall ornament dropped from 64 to 30 degrees.
As he explained why he was carrying the gauge, the red line sped downward to 25, 20, and into the lower, numberless range that eventually stopped somewhere below 10 degrees. The barometer part, however, indicated the weather would be “fair,” as it was on the sunny street.
For the Matthews family, getting into their new apartment did not require a lot of heavy lifting.
The couple moved here from Columbus with their four daughters – ages 7, 4, 3 and 3 months – at the end of November, bringing with them their clothes and not much else.
“We need everything,” Bonita Matthews said. “We’re starting over from scratch.”
Blankets may be near the top of their list. Through midnight Tuesday, the mercury hung out in the single digits or at zero degrees for 30 straight hours. The single-digit blast of winter began at around 6 p.m. Monday, when the temperature fell to 8 degrees.
Compounding the cold were wind gusts of more than 30 mph that dropped wind chill below minus 20 degrees.
Despite the cold weather, the gusty winds have actually helped break up some ice on Lake Erie.
As of Tuesday, about 91.5 percent of Lake Erie was ice covered, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich. Last Thursday, the lake was more than 95 percent ice-covered.
The extreme western end near Toledo and the eastern end near Buffalo are socked in with more than 99 percent ice cover. However, areas in between range largely between 80 and 99 percent, according to the Great Lakes lab.
Besides wind chill warnings and advisories throughout the area, the conditions prompted the National Weather Service to issue a rarer “heavy freezing spray warning” for the open waters of Lake Ontario. The frigid temperatures combined with gusty winds and turbulent lake waters prompted forecasters to warn lake mariners to “remain in port” or “avoid the warning area.”
“If there was a ship out there, you’d get a lot of ice on the super-structure,” said Jon Hitchcock, meteorologist. “If you build up enough ice on the upper part of the vessel, you can shift the center of gravity, and it could capsize the vessel.”
On land, residents continued adjusting to the winter that won’t quit.
Erie County has processed about 1,500 more applications for heating help through the HEAP program since November compared with last season, according to county spokesman Peter Anderson.
The weather is one factor, he said, but this year individuals this year can apply online through MyBenefits. So far, 5,000 people have done so.
At AAA Western and Central New York, service reps are fielding an exceptional number of roadside assistance calls this month. On the zero-degree days, many of the customers never even made it to the roadside before needing help.
“There have been days when (dead) batteries were 60 percent of our calls,” said Steve Pacer, AAA public affairs specialist. “This weather has been so crazy, with one storm after another. We’ve had a lot of calls, either for a tow or for dead batteries. We have 200 calls out right now.”
Come Friday, the three-month span from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31 will go down as one of the coldest on record.
As of Tuesday, the weather service reported the average monthly temperature of 28.7 degrees was enough for 20th coldest on an all-time list dating back to 1880. There is a chance, with the continued cold this week, that it might catch the 15th-coldest rank at 28 degrees. By comparison, the November to January periods to beat are the infamous 1976-77 season and the 1917-18 winter at 23.3 degrees.
To further illustrate, Buffalo hasn’t been at or above freezing since Jan. 17 – a span of 12 days. But the winter of 1976-77 holds that all-time record at 45 consecutive days below freezing.
Although temperatures will begin moderating later this week, only Saturday holds the potential to rise to the freezing point. The forecast high on Saturday is 31.
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