January could end up as one of the coldest months in recent memory |

January could end up as one of the coldest months in recent memory

Tom Fontaine
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Scott Baldwin, 49, of Neville Island, uses a mask and goggles for warmth as he bikes through Coraopolis on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. Baldwin said that because he bicycles everywhere, the goggles really help, and without them, ' my eyes would be pouring a river of tears from the stinging cold.'
Louis B.Ruediger | Leader Times
Ice forms from the shore on the Allegheny River at the John P. Murtha Amphitheater boat docks in Kittanning, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Minimal skin exposure is this commuter's weapon against bitter cold in downtown Pittsburgh on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
The sun tries to poke through the clouds as flurries moves in on Mt. Washington Thursday morning January 23, 2014.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Undeterred by the cold weather, Tamarra Pettway, 18, a student at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, takes her daily meditative walk on Thursday Jan. 23, 2014, along an icy Allegheny River on the North Shore.

The mercury hasn't hit bottom yet.

January ranks as one of the most bitingly cold months Western Pennsylvanians can remember, though certainly not a record. A cold snap early in the month made the temperature plummet to 9 below zero near Pittsburgh International Airport with a wind chill that felt like 30 below.

State College-based AccuWeather predicts a low of 10 below zero on Tuesday as part of the latest bone-chilling cold spell, one that will extend through at least Jan. 31.

“We've been selling a lot of winter tires. People who have decided to try and wait to see how the winter goes, I think finally pulled the trigger,” said Nick Lenhart, manager of Lenhart's Service Center in North Huntingdon. “They realized it's not just going to be a one and done.”

The extended severe cold is a chilling prospect that could endanger seniors, strain utilities and put businesses and schools farther behind schedule.

“Seniors can be more vulnerable” to problems from the cold, said Darlene Burlazzi, deputy administrator of the Allegheny County Area Agency on Aging.

The agency serves about 4,500 people in the county, about one-third of whom are monitored through a program for homebound seniors. The agency is replenishing the “snowy weather boxes” it provides the seniors, which include nonperishable food, a flashlight and batteries and slippers, Burlazzi said.

Marc Cherna, Allegheny County's human services director, encouraged people to check on elderly neighbors to ensure they have a list of emergency telephone numbers handy and that their furnace is working and their sidewalks and steps are clear.

The weather has cut operations and attendance at Lutheran Service Society's five senior centers in Westmoreland County.

“We've had to cancel a couple days because of the weather, which is not good,” said Katy Lowstetter, program manager in Westmoreland County.

January could end up with as many days of sub-zero temperatures — seven — as the region had in the past decade combined, according to National Weather Service data and forecasts.

January had three sub-zero days through Thursday, including lows of 9 below on Jan. 7, 7 below on Jan. 6 and 5 below on Wednesday. The low temperature could dip below zero on four of the next eight days. The forecasted low on Tuesday of 10 below would equal the coldest temperature in a decade, National Weather Service records show.

The balmiest day on the horizon? Saturday, when the temperature is expected to soar to 27 degrees. There's also a 90 percent chance of snow, with up to 4 inches possible, according to forecasts.

“Anyone who doesn't dress well for the weather will be at risk for hypothermia and effects from the cold,” including wind burn, frostbite and dehydration, said Khlood Salman, an associate professor of nursing at Duquesne University who specializes in public health.

At Abigail's Coffeehouse, a coffee shop and café on the Diamond in Ligonier Borough, business has slowed about 30 to 40 percent during the recent cold weather, according to owner Dianne Stewart. “People aren't going out because of the roads and cold temperatures,” she said.

Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said the cold should boost demand for electricity and natural gas, but the commission doesn't anticipate problems.

Allegheny County Emergency Services Chief Alvin Henderson Jr. is concerned that up-and-down temperatures could wreak new havoc on water lines and other pipes such as those that popped during January's first big cold punch.

“During the first cold snap, the temperature went down and it stayed there for a few days before going back up. What concerns me moving into next week is that temperatures dipping and coming up and dipping again will stress water lines,” Henderson said.

Pennsylvania Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said districts don't formally report delays or cancellations to the department, but both appear to be up this year — in large part because of the cold. That doesn't mean school years will be extended into June yet, Eller said, noting districts typically include three to five “weather” days in their calendars.

School officials said they are taking the next week a day at a time. Sometimes decisions whether to cancel or delay school are made on a minute-by-minute basis. Pittsburgh Public Schools spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said the district canceled school twice during the first cold snap.

Norwin School District builds four or five “snow days” into the school calendar each year. So far, Norwin has canceled school twice and delayed the start of classes three times in January because of wintry conditions, spokesman Jonathan Szish said.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Staff writers Rossilynne Skena Culgan and Nicole Chynoweth contributed to this report.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.