By Tom McParland
With temperatures expected to plunge below zero within days, the Mahoning Valley is bracing for the worst stretch of weather in what already has been a difficult winter season.
Overnight snow is expected to give way today to extremely low temperatures.
A spokesman for Handyman Supply in Youngstown said it has been a busy season, with spurts of business coinciding with the extreme weather. In addition to the winter staples of shovels, salt and scrapers, the Youngstown hardware store also has been selling wraps to protect water pipes from freezing and rupturing.
The high temperature today is supposed to hit about 14 degrees with a low around 5 degrees and wind chills of minus 10 to 15, according to the National Weather Service in Cleveland.
The temperature will range Saturday from the mid-20s to the lower 30s with wind chills of 10 below zero at times, said Kristen Schepel, a NWS meteorologist. The high Sunday will be in the mid-30s with a low of 10 degrees, she said.
The long-range forecast calls for even lower temperatures, Schepel said. The area could experience record lows.
On Monday, a cold front comes to the Valley with a high around 10 degrees early in the morning and steadily falling throughout the day with a low around 10 to 15 degrees below zero and wind chills as low as minus 30, she said. The record-low temperature for Jan. 6 is minus 2 in 1988.
On Tuesday, the high will be around zero with wind chills of 35 below zero during the day, she said. The temperature is expected to drop at night to minus 5 to 10 degrees with wind chills of 15 to 20 below zero. Minus 6 in 1988 is the record-low temperature for Jan. 7.
Safety because of the low temperatures is a big concern, with officials and organizations looking to get the word out about the weather.
The United States Postal Service will continue to make its rounds through the weather, but it reminded people to shovel around their mailboxes so that workers can access mailboxes.
With letter carriers “on the front line of the severe weather conditions,” the Postal Service urged cooperation in keeping employees safe.
“Painted porches and steps can be especially hazardous. While salting and rubber-backed mats help, we rely on residents to clear the snow,” Melvin J. Anderson, USPS Northern Ohio District Manager, said in a statement.
To combat the slippery conditions caused by icing, Handyman manager Jeff Kordes is telling customers to upgrade from traditional ice salts, which he said are effective only until a certain point.
“You can throw that out all day long, and if it’s below 10 degrees, it’s not going to do anything,” he said.
Instead, Kordes recommended calcium chloride-based ice melts, which work in temperatures as low as 25 degrees below zero.
Preventive measures for homes include better insulation and frost-fee valves for outside faucets, he said.
Area officials are urging motorists to use caution while driving. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation issued a statement Thursday urging motorists to slow down.
“PennDOT follows weather forecasts just like our customers do, but the bottom line is that weather is unpredictable and we need to be prepared for quick changes in weather and road conditions,” Barry J. Schoch, PennDOT secretary, said in the press release.
“If significant precipitation is forecast, people shouldn’t travel unless they must. This ensures that everyone stays safe and crews can focus on treating the roads.”
Of particular concern is the well-being of the homeless as temperatures are set to plunge below zero.
Shelters such as Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley are prepared to take in record numbers of people in the coming days.
Doug Gough, supervisor of men’s services at the Rescue Mission, said they will take in more than 100 people overnight for the first time since 1893.
While the Rescue Mission offers a range of services, the severe conditions present a greater need than ever for emergency care.
“That’s the first thing, to meet the immediate needs,” Gough said.
Shelters such as the Rescue Mission and Warren Family Mission work closely with social-work agencies and the Help Hotline Crisis Center to move the homeless and near-homeless into shelters. A paid staff and trained volunteers will hit the streets to find the homeless and make arrangements to get them to safety, even arranging for cab rides if necessary.
Residents should dial 2-1-1 to reach the Help Hotline if they see someone in need of help.
Gough said his facility is ready to meet the need, however great.
“We’re ready,” he said. “You don’t have to be out there freezing.”
Pets also are at risk over the coming days, and the Animal Charity Human Society is urging pet owners to bring their animals indoors, even if they primarily are outside pets.
Kayley Frost, Animal Charity’s executive director, said the group is distributing free hay to keep dogs warm. Workers also will be doing wellness checks to ensure the safety of pets that are stuck outside.
Contributor: David Skolnick