It’s dangerously cold, but not significantly windy or snowy.
One out of three ain’t bad.
Just two weeks removed from the Blizzard of 2014, Buffalo Niagara is back in the icebox as another blast of arctic air is gripping the region, sending temperatures plummeting back below zero and wind chills well into the minus double-digits.
The cold is renewing a set of headaches for area school superintendents, plumbers and emergency road crews, not to mention making lots of icy fingers and toes for the rest of us. A Code Blue warning is posted at the Buffalo City Mission. Warming shelters have reopened.
On the bright side, the region escaped another Nor’easter that was battering the Eastern Seaboard Tuesday with up to a foot of snow.
“The pipeline is open to the Arctic,” said Jeff Wood, meteorologist at the National Weather Service. “It’s not unusual to get cold – it’s January. But, an air mass this cold is certainly colder than normal.”
Temperatures are running 20 to 25 degrees below average. Still, it probably won’t eclipse the record-breaking minus 7-degree mark for this date, set in 1976.
Before this month, the region hadn’t had a single day when the temperature remained in the single digits or below dating back to 2009. That’s forecast to happen today for the third time this month. It occurred Jan. 3 and Jan. 7 and then barely missed the mark Tuesday, when a 10-degree reading shortly after midnight dipped into the single digits for the rest of the day and remained there.
Today’s high temperature is forecast to be 8 degrees, with a low of 4 degrees tonight. All of this chilly weather arrived on a day when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called for establishing “a state-of-the-art weather detection system” – one of six nationwide – in his 2014-15 budget proposal. It also arrived on a day when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that global temperature in 2013 tied the mark as the fourth-warmest year on record, dating back to 1880.
Winter storm warnings were posted in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City and Boston and all the areas in between, with heavy snow, gusty winds and bitter temperatures. That storm, which resulted in thousands of canceled flights, had ripple effects on the arrival and departure boards at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, where flights to many affected destinations were delayed or canceled.
Only chances for flurries and snow are in the forecast for Buffalo Niagara through Thursday, with snow showers likely by Friday night and into Saturday.
The sustained, below-freezing forecast into early next week will likely fully choke off our lake-effect snow machine sometime this week. More than 87 percent of Lake Erie was ice-covered, Tuesday according to NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“It’s just our end that has a little bit of open water left,” said Jim Mitchell, National Weather Service meteorologist in Buffalo. “That’s most likely to freeze over the next few days.
“That will really eliminate the lake-effect snowfall because you’re not going to be able to pull any moisture off of the lake.”
Folks in the Tug Hill Plateau region of the state, however, will remain a strong target. That’s because only about 5 percent of Lake Ontario is frozen.
The drastic reduction in heavy lake-effect snow events will be welcome news to area school superintendents, many of whom are pressed up against their pre-planned number of “snow days” in the 2013-14 academic calendar because of the inclement weather late last year as well as the blizzard two weeks ago.
“We’re spent,” said Paul M. Connelly, superintendent at Springville-Griffith Institute Central School District, of the six snow days built into the district’s calendar.
Eden Superintendent Sandra Anzalone said she follows the guidelines of “most doctors” assigning wind chill values of minus 23 and below as too cold for school when deciding whether to shut down classes for the day. Having already used up its five budgeted days this year – two in December and three this month – wouldn’t weigh at all into her decision to cancel school, however.
“We look at every single day separately,” Anzalone said. “I look at each day in terms of student safety.”
Eden’s school board recently approved adding back a pair of days to its student calendar, which, by state law requires 180 attendance days. Students were scheduled to be off Feb. 14 and March 21 but will now be required to attend for half-days.
In Springville, Connelly said the district held a “calendar committee meeting” last week. The next snow day that’s required in Springville will begin adding days to the end of the school year, Connelly said, in order to adhere to state law.
Unlike earlier cold snaps this month, which generally lasted for a couple of days before moderate – or even above-average temperatures – took over, this one promises to stick around most of the week. Temperatures were expected to drop below zero overnight with northwest winds dropping wind chill values in the dangerously low range of 10 to 20 degrees below zero. And the mercury is not expected to make it out of the single digits today.
A wind chill advisory is in place until 11 a.m. today by the National Weather Service.
Highs Thursday and Friday are only expected to be in the teens, before climbing into the mid-20s Saturday and then dropping off again into the teens through at least Tuesday, with overnight lows in the single digits or below zero.
That sustained cold isn’t just putting pressure on residents. Plumbing throughout the region is also being taxed.
“We’ve gotten a bunch of calls for both burst pipes and frozen pipes,” said Mike Dollendorf, owner of Roy’s Plumbing in the Town of Tonawanda.
It’s what happens when the temperature gets this cold and frigid winds blow into the walls where there’s exposed plumbing. Damage can be extensive, and expensive.
Dollendorf offered a few helpful hints at avoiding frozen pipes during cold snaps like these:
• Keep the temperature inside of your house warmer.
• Run a trickle of water from the hot and cold spigots of fixtures, especially the one with the “longest run” from the main water supply.
• Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to let warmer air circulate.
• Remove outside hoses, shut off the water line to any outside faucets and then open it to drain any excess water.
If your pipes do freeze, Dollendorf advises shutting off the main water supply. If a pipe does burst, that limits the amount of water that can leak into the home.
Thawing frozen pipes should be done by supervising a shielded lit lightbulb, using a hair dryer or calling a licensed professional plumber with special equipment.
His biggest advice of all when dealing with frozen pipes?
“Never, ever, ever use an open flame,” Dollendorf said.