As deep freeze sets in, people urged to help most vulnerable

Forecasters warned people to be wary of the dangers of severe cold as an arctic blast continues to grip a large swath of the US, from the Midwest to the Northeast.

Seth Wenig/AP
Pedestrians try to keep warm while walking in New York's Times Square on Wednesday. Freezing temperatures and below-zero wind chills socked much of the northern United States on Wednesday, and the snow-hardened city of Erie, Pa., dug out from a record snowfall.

The post-Christmas prolonged, dangerously cold weather across half the country has advocates for the homeless scrambling to get people off the streets and local officials urging residents to assist their elderly neighbors.

Forecasters warned people to be wary of hypothermia and frostbite from the arctic blast has gripped a large swath from the Midwest to the Northeast, where the temperature, without the wind chill factored in, dipped to minus 32 (minus 35 Celsius) Thursday morning in Watertown, New York. Temperatures rose to minus 7 (minus 22 Celsius) early Friday morning.

Warming centers were set up in some locations including recreation centers across Cincinnati. Boston's Pine Street Inn sent a van with outreach workers around to persuade people to spend the night inside, but some said they prefer the streets.

Segundo Rivera and Sean Stuart told the Boston Herald they're not comfortable spending the night in a shelter.

"We've lived out here so long it's like honestly, this is comfortable for us," Mr. Rivera said.

A shelter spokeswoman said that if people don't want to go to a shelter, they're given blankets, warm clothing and a hot beverage, and informed of the dangers of extreme cold.

The Ohio Department of Aging said older people are at increased risk from such severe cold, from medication side effects to falling risks. The department encouraged people to check on family members, friends and neighbors to make sure they're warm enough and have their needed medications and sufficient food and water.

Animal advocates also urged people to remember their pets.

In Toledo, the humane society was looking into the death of a dog found "frozen solid" on a porch, cruelty investigator Megan Brown told The Blade.

"I don't know how long she was out there," Ms. Brown said.

A second dog was recovered shivering inside the home. The dogs' owner told The Blade utilities that had been shut off but he had been providing for the dogs while living elsewhere. He said he didn't know how one dog, an American bully, got outside.

On Thursday, cold weather records were set from Arkansas to Maine, and the freezing air will linger through the weekend, reaching as far south as Texas and the Florida Panhandle.

In New Hampshire, the cold set a record for the day of minus 34 (minus 37 Celsius) atop the Northeast's highest peak, Mount Washington.

In the Midwest, temperatures in Minneapolis aren't expected to top zero (minus 18 Celsius) this weekend, and it likely will be in the teens (minus 11 Celsius to minus 7 Celsius) when the ball drops on New Year's Eve in New York City.

A winter storm warning was in effect for much of Montana, calling for significant snowfall followed by dangerously cold temperatures as 2017 comes to an end.

"People like to think of themselves as being prepared for the weather and things like that," Billings forecaster Dan Borsum said, "but this one will get your attention."

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