Updated: Wednesday, January 3, 2018, 3:24 PM
They talked about wearing layers of clothing, using hand warmers, and sleeping where there would be heat, but with temperatures in the mid-20s, those working outside and gathering at warming centers throughout the region knew worse was yet to come.
“I’m going to have to do something on Friday, because it’s going to be really cold,” said Camden County Police Officer Breanna Mariner, who was on patrol near the Walter Rand Transportation Center at Broadway and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Camden on Wednesday morning, when it was 23 degrees. “This is like summer right now.”
At that time, the sun shined through the clouds, providing some warmth. But the “bomb cyclone” then moving up the coast was expected to \drop up to a foot of snow at the Jersey Shore through Thursday. The rest of the region was not expected to get nearly as much, but some areas still issued blizzard warnings. If that was not bad enough, temperatures will plunge into the single digits Friday and Saturday with windy conditions that will take the chill below zero.
Throughout the region, consecutive cold days that started at Christmas have been creating havoc with broken pipes, at least one weather-related death in Montgomery County, and emergency school closings. There may be other deaths due to the weather, but medical examiners have to wait for test results before making a ruling, officials said.
Not everyone was complaining about the arctic conditions, though.
Coldilocks, the oldest polar bear living in the United States, took a swim Tuesday and likely will stick with her routine through the weekend, said Donna Evernham, curator of ungulates and carnivores at the Philadelphia Zoo.
Coldilocks turned 37 last month, and still “likes to take her morning swim,” Evernham said.
The Himalayan red pandas also enjoy the deep freeze, while ungulates, such as giraffes and rhinos, are likely to prefer their heated enclosures.
“They would be inside this time of year,” Evernham said. Other animals will receive extra bedding, and temperatures for all the animals will be monitored, as is the case all year, she added.
At the Active Day adult care center in South Philly, Mary Walsh, 80, remained bundled in her winter coat while listening to music. He daughter, she said, lowers the heat in their home during the day, so she was glad to be out of the house.
“I love it here,” Walsh said. “The people are nice, and it’s warm here.”
At the next table, Betty Combs, 78, sang along to Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” as the activities director, Tara Simpson, played guitar. About 30 people were at the center. Combs, with a heavy red sweater over a lighter red sweater over a white shirt, said she likes the company at Active Day, but still, Thursday she may stay home.
“If it’s a lot of snow, I’ll stay home. But if it’s just a couple of inches, I’ll come here,” Combs said.
The center’s director, Danielle Rago, said there has been an uptick of people attending programs at the center, and calls from people looking for help.
“I had three calls yesterday and two calls today looking for services,” Rago said.
As the forecast for Thursday grew worse, some local officials made preparations for the storm and some schools throughout the region announced closings.
Timothy Boyce, director for emergency services for Delaware County, said he had not seen a large influx of reports of cold-related emergencies.
“The way it would become a big problem? Power loss,” said Boyce, concerned about high winds and possible power outages.
He said residents who need immediate help should call 911, and urged residents to call on behalf of others in need, especially if they are elderly or have a disability. He was working with other officials to determine whether there should be additional staffing at 911 centers.
“If you think there’s a neighbor that doesn’t have heat,” he said, “you’re not picking on them by calling 911.”
In Chester County, Connect Points, the county’s network of homeless service locations, extended hours due to the “code blue.”
In Camden, Yorkship School in the Fairview neighborhood closed Wednesday after it had to dismiss students early Tuesday because the heater in the 100-year-old building could not keep up with the icy challenge.
“The extreme cold weather is putting pressure on the heating system,” said Maita Soukup, a spokeswoman for the Camden School District. The maintenance team, she said, is working hard to make repairs, with the aim of reopening the school as soon as possible.
The school, with students from preschool through eighth grade, remained open until 1 p.m. Tuesday so students could have their lunches before going home, one school official said.
Bill Simila, an electrician for PATCO, was wearing several layers of clothing Wednesday morning, including a T-shirt, hoodie, and PATCO jacket. On this morning, he had no complaints, but he said last Friday, when transportation workers walked the tracks from Westmont to Collingswood, “that was cold.” Thankfully, he said, he will be off this Friday when the temperatures dip again.
For the homeless throughout the region, shelters and warming centers were open for a code blue, called when extra precautions must be made by counties and municipalities for extreme cold weather.
Camden County Police Officer Pete Perez was outside the transportation center with several other officers.
“People sometimes come up to us and ask for transportation to the centers,” Perez said, adding that the city provides rides and will assist those in need.
Inside the transportation center, Tina Timmons, 62, was staying warm and planning to get coffee and a warm lunch.
“I’ve been out here for a while,” Timmons said. She’s homeless and uses a cardboard box and a blanket as a barrier against the cold weather. This morning, she doubled up on socks and hats, and layered thermals with shirts and jeans. A friend nearby napped against a window, as she had no other place to go.
Timmons said she would spend the night with her daughter in Collingswood, and stay there through the bad weather.
“It’s going to snow tomorrow,” Timmons said. A man standing nearby said he had a different way to stay warm: “Lots of vodka.”
Staff writers Jan Hefler and Erin McCarthy contributed to this article.