Dangerous cold heading to Pa.; caution is urged

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PITTSBURGH (AP) – For residents of western and northern Pennsylvania, sub-freezing temperatures and dangerous wind chills are likely through Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service warned, and southeastern residents should see slightly less severe cold as frigid air from a so-called polar vortex forecast to move into the state.

The warning in place for Pittsburgh and other parts of western Pennsylvania runs from 1 p.m. Monday through 10 a.m. Wednesday based on predictions that temperatures could fall to 20 below zero in some areas, with a low of 8 to 15 below possible in Pittsburgh. Wind chills could be as low as 40 to 50 below, which can cause frostbite with only brief exposure.

“Pennsylvania residents in parts of the state will see some of the coldest temperatures in nearly two decades,” Gov. Tom Corbett said. “Although we are fortunate that this cold snap will be brief, it is important to know that low temperatures such as those forecasted, combined with bitter cold wind chills, will be dangerous.”

Erie and Crawford, the state’s most northwestern counties, were also under a winter storm warning, with up to 15 inches of snow forecast. The forecast prompted schools in Erie and neighboring Millcreek Township to cancel classes for Tuesday, and other districts farther south and east, including Corry, Fort LeBoeuf and Northwestern, to dismiss early Monday.

Pittsburgh Public Schools canceled afterschool activities Monday and classes on Tuesday, even though little to no snow is forecast in the city, citing the danger from the cold.

The forecast was the coldest in Pittsburgh for more than 20 years, prompting the city and surrounding Allegheny County to open five warming centers for the homeless or those without adequate utilities. Residents were warned to remain indoors if possible, especially Tuesday and early Wednesday. Mayor-elect Bill Peduto even moved his Monday inauguration ceremony indoors.

Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the county health department, warned that frostbite can occur in 30 minutes if wind chills are minus 19, and in five minutes at minus 48 degrees, which is possible in this weather system.

“We are prepared for this weather, but we need all citizens to cooperate by recognizing the danger and using extreme caution,” city Public Safety Director Michael Huss said. City Human Services Director Marc Cherna urged neighbors to check on one another, especially the elderly or chronically ill.

In southeastern Pennsylvania, a weather advisory in effect from 1 a.m. Tuesday to 6 a.m. Wednesday warned of single-digit temperatures with wind chills of 15 to 20 degrees below zero.

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