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Chill prompts precautions

Temperature drop brings with it a risk for injury and damage.

It was 12 degrees and dropping at the M&T Bank on West Market Street in Wilkes-Barre around 9:30 p.m. Thursday.

Times leader staff photo/pete g. Wilcox

Just when it seemed like Old Man Winter would never arrive, the disagreeable curmudgeon finally made his entrance – with a portentous dip in the temperature, and snow for effect.

The National Weather Service has issued a wind-chill warning for the region until this afternoon and forecasts single-digit temperatures and sub-zero wind chill throughout the weekend with snow a persistent possibility.

Road crews in Wilkes-Barre, having used their snow plows for the first time Thursday morning, applied a precautionary layer of salt on bridges Thursday night, and medical professionals geared up to respond to the first cold-induced injury reports of the year.

It was a particular shock, given the weather in the past few months, which has been downright balmy at times. Temperatures broke the 70-degree mark in November and December. Last month’s 37.9 degrees was the highest monthly average temperature for December on record, according to the National Weather Service.

In fact, until the recent cold snap, this month’s average temperature was on track to beat the overall January average by 8.3 degrees, said Mitch Gilt, a hydrometeorological technician at the National Weather Service office in Binghamton, N.Y., which creates forecasts for Luzerne and 23 other counties. The January average is 25.8 degrees.

“We’re finally starting to drop below normal,” he said, adding that only four days have reached below-normal temperatures while a substantial number have been above average by more than 10 degrees. “Even if we cool down considerably … we’re probably only going to cool down toward normal.”

The jet stream has slipped south as it usually does this time of year, Gilt said, allowing bitter winds from Canada to sweep across the border. Despite the chilliness, he said: “This is not what I would consider an exceptionally cold air mass.”

Still, it’s cold enough for snow-making, and Sno Mountain in Lackawanna County has been pumping out the white stuff around the clock from its more than 250 snow guns, adding 2 feet to the trail base each day, said customer service representative Justin Christ.

“If it’s under 28 degrees, which it has been for the past week or so, we can make snow 24 hours a day,” he said, adding that all but the snow-tubing trail was expected to be open by the weekend. As of Thursday evening, 13 trails were open with almost a 40-inch base, he said, and snow was being made to build the half pipe and terrain park.

With the sharp temperature drop, medical workers are preparing for problems.

“This is going to be brutal. We’re not going to be used to this at all,” said Mark Ercolani, a registered nurse with Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center and a paramedic in Plains Township. “I think we’re going to see more cold-related emergencies. We’re probably going to see our first cases of frostbite.”

He advised leaving no skin exposed, wearing a hat, gloves and dressing in layers when going outdoors.

Elderly people should inform someone if they leave the house, even if it’s just to the mailbox, he said, and anyone who might have frostbite should seek medical attention to reduce the risk of tissue loss. He recommended bringing a blanket and cell phone when driving, in case the vehicle becomes stranded.

To keep vehicles from that fate, Butch Frati, Wilkes-Barre’s planning and development director, had his crews replenish salt supplies and do maintenance on plow trucks on Thursday in preparation for continued inclement weather.

“We’re going to start a precautionary salting … before anything should happen,” he said, adding that motorists should pay attention to low-lying, historically wet areas where melt water tends to collect and refreeze.

Such places in the city, he said, are under the Scott Street bridge, South River Street, Pennsylvania Avenue and the area around the Murray complex.

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