An Arctic air mass bringing single-digit temperatures and even colder winds claimed the life of a Camden man and may have caused the death of another man in Philadelphia as the hard freeze settled into the region.
Many area residents visited stores looking for heaters and other winter supplies, only to find that some merchants - prompted by warmer temperatures earlier in the season - had begun switching displays to patio furniture and barbecue grills. Heaters and snowblowers were in short supply.
The National Weather Service said the cold blast, which arrived Jan. 29, will remain for at least two more weeks.
This morning's predicted low of 15 degrees and the afternoon's expected high of 26 will mark below-normal temperatures on six of the last seven days, said Gary Szatkowski, a chief meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly.
The normal high for this time in February is 40 and the low is 26.
In Camden, Robert Crane, 50, died of hypothermia Monday in a field as he walked home from a relative's house, according to authorities.
Police found his coat and shirt on the ground beside him near his home on Merrimac Road. Investigators said they believed he suffered from a condition called "paradoxical undressing," in which a victim of hypothermia removes clothing in spite of the cold.
The Philadelphia man, who was unidentified, was found at 7 a.m. yesterday off Martin Luther King Drive near the Falls Bridge. Investigators believed he may have been a victim of the cold, but were awaiting autopsy results.
Another cold-related death in the city was reported last week.
Code Blue alerts have been issued in Philadelphia and other areas to try to get homeless people into shelters.
Montgomery County has had a Code Blue since Jan. 16. Joseph Roynan, the county's director of human services, said the shelter population had remained stable, except for a church near Pottstown that has aggressively tried to persuade homeless people to come in.
"Most of the participants are folks who don't want to come to traditional shelters," Roynan said. The church, St. John's United Church of Christ, had four to six people a night, then jumped to 22 over the weekend.
In Delaware County, where there are an estimated 800 homeless people, the county said it was unclear whether more people were retreating to shelters.
The Life Center of Eastern Delaware County, which houses homeless people in Upper Darby, has been seeing an extra 10 people a night and has set up extra cots, said Pat Ingham, administrator for the office of adult services.
Other homeless people who are unable to fit into regular shelters can go to overflow programs run by the Salvation Army and the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Ingham said.
Ingham said outreach teams and police can "strongly encourage" homeless people to come inside, but cannot force them into shelters.
In Chester County, officials at the Salvation Army in West Chester said numbers for the men-only shelter were up slightly.
While the cold forced some people inside, others were sent out into it, to repair water-main breaks.
Laura Copeland, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Water Department, said there had been about 10 breaks per day over the last month. She said that number was about normal for the busiest two months of the year, January and February.
At Broad and Wallace Streets in North Philadelphia, Angelo Affatato wore heavy blue coveralls as he and a construction crew prepared to pour a sidewalk in front of a building that is being renovated.
"I'm wearing long johns underneath," Affatato said. "I can always take more clothes off. On a day like today, I don't take anything off."
On 17th Street near Spring Garden Street, Gul Bacha was trying to stay warm inside his Philly Cheesesteak lunch cart at the campus of the Community College of Philadelphia.
"I'd prefer not to be out here," he said. "I'd rather take the day off, but I can't."
Bacha was wearing layers of clothing and sipping soup to keep warm while he waited for customers.
"When the weather gets like this, business is slower. People don't want to come outside," he said.
Sin Ku, a sidewalk clothing vendor on 18th Street near Chestnut Street, said business was "very, very slow" and the cold "about the worst" he had seen in 14 years as a vendor.
Nearby, Lou Smith - thick tan coveralls and a wool cap - seemed unfazed as he walked down Chestnut on his way to his construction job at the new Comcast tower at 18th and JFK Boulevard.
"I'm glad to be working out here," Smith said.
He said he takes more breaks in cold weather. The temperatures are brutal on the upper floors of the skyscraper, he said, adding, "It's very windy up there."
The cold also was affecting business in New Jersey. Scott Thom, assistant manager at the Lowe's home improvement store in Maple Shade, said the store discounted heaters and sold out last week. It still has some snowblowers.
But despite the cold, patio furniture and outdoor grills are still quickly replacing cold weather merchandise.
"We're getting ready" for summer, he said. "The cold could be gone tomorrow."
Stan Gaskill, operations manager at the nearby Home Depot store in Mount Laurel, said his store also had sold most of its heaters and is "phasing out to summer."
At the Cherry Hill Auto Shine car wash, Octavio Cruz, 37, of Lindenwold, was working the cash register, glad to be out of the severe weather. The door of the car wash was closed between cars to help prevent freezing.
"It's cold out there," he said.
A dusting of snow was forecast this morning for the Philadelphia area. An inch or two was expected in the southernmost part of New Jersey as well as around Wilmington and Dover, Del.