Phila. braces for single-digit cold

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Early-morning commuters in Philadelphia make their way through Center City on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

Note: This story was updated Thursday morning.

Area residents woke up Thursday to the winter's first single-digit day, as the temperature at 5 a.m. plunged to 9 degrees, with the winds at the time making it feel like minus 5.

And besides the physical misery, the cold caused delays on commuter rail operations around the region - SEPTA, PATCO and NJ Transit RiverLine - and resulted in some packed trains.

It hasn't been this cold since Jan. 24 of last year.

But hang in there.

"It will be getting warmer. Or less cold," said Gary Szatkowski, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Mount Holly. "I don't know if 37 will feel warm. But it will feel less cold."

To get to 37 degrees - Sunday's expected high - the city first needs to bear highs of 20 Thursday, 34 Friday, and 25 Saturday.

Precipitation shouldn't be a problem. But the cold was enough to prompt a widespread response, including a Code Blue declaration Monday night and homeless outreach patrols from the city police.

A Code Blue, which goes into effect when temperatures drop below 32 and the National Weather Service predicts either precipitation or a wind chill temperature of 20, typically leads thousands of homeless individuals to seek shelter with the city, according to Carol Thomas, the director of homeless services at Project HOME.

Between 8 p.m. Tuesday and 8 a.m. Wednesday, outreach workers met 111 homeless people and placed 48 in shelters, she said.

"The city has done a great job in opening up the capacity" to shelter the homeless, Thomas said.

Streets Department crews planned to be on standby Wednesday night and Thursday morning to help salt roads if any water mains burst, said the chief highway engineer, Steve Lorenz. He said Tuesday's snowfall was a nice warm-up for the fleet and a breeze compared with last winter's deluge of snow, which still haunts him.

"It's not flashbacks. It's nightmares," he said. "I wake up screaming in the middle of the night."

Broken pipes were also a concern for the city's renters and homeowners.

One Rittenhouse Square condominium sent an e-mail pleading with tenants to keep on the heat, sharing cautionary tales of the few residents who last year came home from work or vacations to find their failure to do so had led to damage in their own homes and those of their neighbors.

While jarring, the temperatures aren't extraordinary for January, typically the coldest of the winter months, Szatkowski said.

And all things considered, the city should count its blessings. December was unseasonably warm, with an average temperature of 41 degrees, nearly four above the average for the month.

 


tnadolny@phillynews.com

215-854-2730 @TriciaNadolny