Forecasters, Red Cross warn of wind chill, temperatures

As a winter storm continues to send snow to the region, state and Red Cross officials are warning residents to prepare for a significant temperature drop.

Craig Evanego, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in State College, said temperatures will stay well below freezing for about the next 36 hours. He said Altoona and the surrounding communities should expect a high of 10 degrees for most of Friday, with wind chills below zero.

At night or early in the morning, temperatures with wind chills could go down as low as 10 to 15 degrees below zero, he said.

“It’s going to be cold and blustery [this] morning,” Evanego said, “and really through the day, temperatures don’t recover much.”

A winter weather advisory is in effect until 7 a.m. today for Blair, Bedford, Cambria and Huntingdon counties. A wind chill warning is also in effect in Cambria County, where Evanego said wind chills lower than 15 degrees below zero were likely.

Kathy Smyser, Red Cross regional communications manager for central Pennsylvania, said anyone planning to be out during the storm should be prepared to possibly get stuck in their cars. Keeping blankets and bottled water can help keep someone safe while waiting for help.

She said making sure everyone is bundled up, especially children and the elderly, is key to staying safe in the cold.

Pets, too, should be kept indoors and shielded from the chill, she said.

Smyser also warned about the dangers of using alternative heat sources in homes, which can lead to fires. She said people should never use a stove or oven to heat their homes. Space heaters should be kept away from flammable items, including rugs and other fabrics, and should be turned off when leaving the house or going to sleep.

“Creative ways of heating are usually not a good idea.” Smyser said.

People using fireplaces should make sure to have a glass or metal screen to prevent sparks from landing on carpet, rugs or furniture. Smyser said the Red Cross responds to more fires in the winter than any other season. She said residents should also be prepared for blackouts, as ice can freeze powerlines and cut off power to homes.

Pipes can also freeze during chills this low, she said, so steps should be taken to help prevent water from freezing.

“Running water at even a trickle will help water from freezing when it gets down to single digits,” she said.

She said opening cabinets in bathrooms and the kitchen will also help circulate warm air onto pipes.

The Red Cross offers a number of free smartphone applications for iPhones and Android phones, she said, on topics including first aid and fire safety top help in a winter emergency situation.

Smyser also said it’s important for blood donations to continue through the winter months, though bad weather may cancel some local drives.

“We know that with the snow, blood drives will be canceled, but the need for blood is still constant,” she said. “January is blood donor month, and we’re urging anyone who can to get out to a blood drive.”