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Frigid air follows snowy blast; City Mission activates emergency weather plan

Winter is here in all its forms this weekend, with a "near whiteout" Saturday to be followed by frigid temperatures expected to dip below zero tonight and early Monday.

Concern over the incoming blast of frigid air prompted the City Mission to activate its "Code Blue" emergency plan for the homeless, and triggered warnings to drivers and anyone venturing outdoors for long.

Two warming shelters for the homeless were opened, offering a place to sleep and a hot meal. They are located at the Mission's headquarters at 100 E. Tupper St. and at St. Luke's Mission of Mercy, 325 Walden Ave.

The buildup to the expected deep freeze began with a near-whiteout early Saturday afternoon.

"We had a good hour here of very poor visibility, with snow blowing and drifting, throughout much of Western New York," National Weather Service meteorologist David Thomas said.

Visibility was down to one-sixteenth of a mile in some spots, as a combination of a general snowstorm and some lake-effect snow pelted some areas with 1 1/2 inches in an hour. Winds gusting to 40 mph accompanied the snow.

That low visibility, combined with snow-covered and slippery roads, led to numerous cars sliding off roads or into accidents.

Once we recover from that winter mess, it will be time to brave the cold temperatures.

Temperatures as low as zero to 2 degrees below zero -- minus 10 with the wind chill -- are predicted for tonight and early Monday, the National Weather Service said.

"We could see, down in Olean and the colder parts of Cattaraugus County, a negative 6 or a negative 7 or 8," Thomas said.

The Thruway Authority continued to warn drivers about wet and icy spots on the roads around Buffalo.

Meanwhile, those headed outdoors are urged to dress appropriately to prevent frostbite, hypothermia and other health problems.

And hospitals in the United States treat on average about 11,500 injuries and medical emergencies a year related to shoveling snow, according to a study in the latest edition of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine.

This first-ever national examination of snow-shoveling health risks looked at data from emergency departments over 17 years. Among the findings: The most common problem in more than half of the cases was muscle strain, while the most common cause was over-exertion followed by slips and falls, and then being hit by a snow shovel.

Heart-related emergency room visits accounted for 6.7 percent of the cases, including all of the 1,647 deaths in the study.

At the City Mission, workers put out extra cots and mattresses to accommodate the expected overflow of men, women and children who need a warm place to stay. The men's shelter on East Tupper Street and the women's and children's shelter on East North Street, Cornerstone Manor, can hold about 400 people, and are near capacity, an official said.

The extreme cold won't last long. A temperature roller-coaster will bring a brief respite by Tuesday, when temperatures are expected to move above the freezing mark, with highs in the mid- and upper 30s.

"Then we go back into the deep freeze for the rest of the week," Thomas said, citing highs in the teens and overnight lows expected to dip into or close to single digits.

For the record, the last time the temperature here fell to zero or below was last Jan. 31, when a low of 2 below zero was recorded.

Last year, the official low dropped to zero or below on four days, Jan. 9 and 10, 30 and 31.

That's about par for the frigid course here.

"We usually average about four days of below-zero [temperatures] in Buffalo," Thomas said.

A winter-weather advisory was in effect until early today for southern Erie, Wyoming, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties.

The advisory warned of snow-covered and very slippery roads leading to difficult driving conditions and visibility of less than a mile at times.

Farther north, forecasters were predicting a lighter snowfall. In Buffalo, the National Weather Service forecast called for an accumulation of 1 to 3 inches through Saturday and less than an inch into today.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com and hdavis@buffnews.com