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Cold as ice: Western New Yorkers brave the temperatures

HAMBURG — It’s a tale as old as time, in Western New York. Late fall arrives, snow falls and the temperatures dip below zero.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the greatest snowfall within 24 hours in the United States was recorded in Silver Lake, Colo., on April 15 – 16, 1921: 75.8 inches.

While WNY has not yet surpassed that record, blowing snow and low temperatures have made for a slippery combination.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a statewide state of emergency on Jan. 2, as temperatures dropped, along with the falling ice and snow.

“Stay off roads if you can,” the governor tweeted, while meteorologists were announcing winter storm warnings for much of the state.

On the evening of Jan. 3, many WNY commuters braved temperatures of 8 below zero, with wind chills making the air feel even colder than that, according to the WNY chapter of the American Red Cross.

The Erie County Department of Health advised taking appropriate precautions, during cold temperatures and heavy snowfall.

“When winter temperatures are this cold and, with a significant wind chill making it feel colder, staying warm and safe can become a challenge,” said Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein. “Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures ... can cause serious or life-threatening health problems.”

Recent cold temperatures have forced the closure of many schools’ and other organizations’ activities and kept a lot of individuals indoors, exactly where the ECDOH said they should be.

“In severe cold weather and, as wind speeds increase, heat can leave your body more rapidly,” Burstein said. “If, at all possible, try to stay indoors. Make any trips outside as brief as possible.”

The American Red Cross had several tips for people needing to leave their homes:
– Wear layers of lightweight clothing, including a hat and gloves, to stay warm and prevent losing body heat.
– When shoveling snow, take frequent breaks and stay hydrated.
– Seek medical attention immediately, when experiencing signs of hypothermia, including confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering.
– Watch for symptoms of frostbite, including numbness, waxy-feeling skin, or flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration.
– Bring pets inside, or make sure they have enough shelter to keep them warm. Ensure they have unfrozen water at all times.
– Run water to keep pipes from freezing.
 – Keep the thermostat at the same temperature, day and night, to avoid a repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
– Put a disaster supplies kit, including shovel, blanket, flashlight, water, snacks, a first aid kit and batteries, in all vehicles.
– Keep gas tanks full, to avoid freezing fuel lines.

The WNY chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association has urged family members and caregivers to focus on the safety of local senior citizens, especially those with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

“Extremely cold temperatures can be deadly for vulnerable people who venture outdoors unprepared for the conditions,” said WNY Chapter Program Director Lesley Kennedy, who recommended keeping a close eye on these individuals, to avoid their wandering from home.

“Watch for triggers, such as increased agitation, fidgeting or pacing, which can indicate their loved one wants to leave,” Kennedy said, adding that acknowledging the feelings of those individuals or redirecting them to a new activity or environment may help with the restlessness.

In the event that an individual wanders away from home, Kennedy advised calling 911 immediately, with the report of a missing vulnerable person.

Western New Yorkers of all ages who are experiencing difficulty with their heating bills can get some relief, with help from the Erie County Department of Social Services Home Energy Assistance Program.

Individuals who have a regular HEAT benefit and have received a shutoff notice for their heat may now apply for an emergency HEAT benefit.

Customers will be asked to provide their case number, Social Security number, utility account numbers, household income and resource amounts, when calling the HEAP hotline, at 858-7644.

The local chapter of National Fuel Gas Distribution Corporation has asked that anyone knowing of an individual living without heat advise that person to contact National Fuel immediately. A company representative will review the situation and offer options for getting the service turned back on.

National Fuel said that special payment plans or community services may be available, and added that the company will help customers avoid going without heat, during this cold season.

To contact National Fuel, call 1-800-365-3234.

All WNY homeowners have been advised to clear snow and ice from exhaust and combustion air vents for gas appliances, to avoid carbon monoxide accumulation in the home.

While the United Postal Service has guaranteed mail in snow and rain and heat and gloom of night, that organization has asked the public to assist its carriers in their quest to provide consistent service to the community.

The USPS is requesting that customers clear snow and ice from their walkways, driveways, porches and areas around their mailboxes, to allow mail carriers easier access.

“Slips, trips and falls continue to be the most frequent type of injury sustained by our carriers,” said WNY District Safety Manager Julieann Morgan. “As winter conditions worsen, so do the number of accidents. By simply clearing the way, customers help reduce the risk.”

Before heading out into the cold, check weather reports, prioritize that to-do list, dress for the elements and slow down on the icy roadways, advised the Snow & Ice Management Association.

According to the National Weather Service’s latest spatter report, Elma received the most snow of all reported Erie County municipalities, during the Hercules storm, with almost 10 inches recorded in 48 hours.

North Boston reported 8.5 inches during that time period, Blasdell came in at 5.5 inches and Hamburg received 5.2 inches, as of 11:26 a.m. on Jan. 3.

The International Business Times reported that 100 million people, or nearly one-third of Americans, saw snow from the Hercules storm.

Winter storm Ion left 17,000 New Yorkers without power on Jan. 6, including residents of the Hunt Avenue/Huntington Court neighborhood in the village of Hamburg. The same blast kept a lake effect snow warning throughout WNY for the early part of this week.

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