Record-Breaking Bitter Cold, Dangerous Wind Chills Envelop Tri-State

Keeping Safe From Bitter Blast

The Office of Emergency Management warned New Yorkers that prolonged exposure to the cold can cause hypothermia and frostbite and exacerbate chronic heart and lung conditions. Seniors and infants are most at risk.

“If you come upon someone who has slur speech or sluggish, they’re confused and they’re cold, they may be suffering from hypothermia,” Dr. Thomas Farley, NYC’s health commissioner, told WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb. “Those are people who need to get into warm places right away.”

The Department of Homeless Services has enacted its Cold Weather Emergency Procedure, called Cold Blue, to protect the homeless — opening up drop-in centers.

While CBS 2’s cameras weren’t allowed inside any shelters, Don Champion saw firsthand that they were packed. Arlene Thompson got warm in one center in Murray Hill.

“I’m thankful for it,” she said. “I don’t know. I guess I would be on the train.”

And a St. Luke’s Hospital in Morningside Heights, patient volume was up 30 percent in the last few days.

Dr. Jeffrey Rabrich runs the emergency room at St. Luke’s, and said he has seen patients with frostbite and hypothermia — and even people who can’t take in the frigid air temperatures.

“We’re seeing a lot of people with breathing problems, asthmatics, people who have respiratory issues — the cold air hits their lungs and triggers an asthma attack,” he said.

Doctors say if you do have to go outside, wear a hat — preferably one that covers your ears — or use earmuffs. Wear a scarf to protect your neck and wrap it loosely across your face.

For your fingers and toes, wear boots with tread and wool socks. Mittens are warmer than gloves. You should also dress in layers because they help trap body heat and keep you warmer.

“It’s really important to be bundled up and warm regardless of how long you plan on being outside,” said Dr. Chris Tedeschi with New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. “It’s important to wear layers, but so many layers that you’re sweating.”

Doctors also said even exercising outdoors can be dangerous. Sweat can make it more likely for hypothermia to set in, so doctors advised if you do go outside, do it in moderation –- and watch for the warning signs.

“When you start getting those feelings like your fingers are hurting, feeling numb or tingling, they’re already getting exposure to the cold, and that’s the time to get out of the cold and start warming them up,” Rabrich said.

The city’s Department of Health encouraged everyone to stay indoors as much as possible and to check on friends, family and neighbors.

Cold Impacts Traffic, Transit

As CBS 2’s Weijia Jiang reported, there was a wild dash at many train stations Tuesday morning – but not only because people were rushing for trains. They were desperate for shelter from the bone-chilling air.

“It’s burning. Like, my face is on fire — ice fire,” one man said at the New Rochelle Metro-North station.

In Bronxville, one pair just missed out and was forced to wait another 15 minutes outside.

“We were running. We thought we were going to make it,” a woman said. “But he closed the doors.”

All of the area transit systems took precautions to protect both passengers and equipment Tuesday.

The Long Island Rail Road is taking steps to protect riders and its equipment during the deep freeze.

The railroad says the freezing temperatures pose a particular threat to its steel rails. They can break during sudden and extreme temperature drops. It says extra crews will be responding to any broken rails.

“We also deploy antifreeze trains that run up and down the entire system, and they put a thin coat of antifreeze on the third rails,” said spokesman Joe Calderone.

Freezing temperatures also caused a risk for mechanical problems, and slowed down the signaling system that tells trains were to go.

“You have the thaw and freezing effect, and that can have an effect on switches on the rail itself,” Calderone explained. “Sometimes we get broken rails.”

LIRR’s station waiting rooms will be open around-the-clock to keep riders warm.

All subway lines in New York City ran local for part of the day Tuesday, although the A Train had resumed express service in Manhattan in the afternoon. Alternate-side-of-the-street parking has been suspended.

NJ TRANSIT is cross-honoring tickets systemwide and also kept 24-7 waiting room hours Tuesday, Jiang reported.

Amtrak said it will be operating on a modified schedule Tuesday on the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston, as well as the Empire Line between New York City and Albany.

One Amtrak train from Washington, D.C. was an hour late Tuesday, as it encountered dangling power lines in Trenton, N.J. and workers scrambled to make repairs.

Due to high winds, speed restrictions have been issued for the Tappan Zee Bridge.

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