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Arctic Front Sets Cold Records in Sweep Across the Northeast

Times Staff Writer

Some of the coldest weather in decades clamped down on the Northeast, driving the urban homeless into shelters and causing even famously hardy New Englanders to think twice about walking the dog.

Temperatures Saturday fell below zero in many parts of the Northeast as an arctic cold front swept in from Canada. In St. Johnsbury, Vt., it was minus 27 degrees. In the nation’s capital, temperatures dipped into single digits. In most areas, there was little or no snowfall to compound the misery, but the clear skies only helped make things colder.

A reading of minus 3 degrees at Boston’s Logan International Airport broke a record set in 1875, according to the National Weather Service. A reading of 2 degrees above zero at New York’s LaGuardia Airport was a 10-year low.

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg doubled the number of housing inspectors responding to complaints about lack of heat and hot water. More than 2,100 such complaints had been received by midafternoon Saturday, officials said.

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“Baby, it’s cold outside!” Bloomberg quipped during a Saturday news conference at the city’s communications center in Lower Manhattan, where four times the usual number of attendants fielded calls to the city’s 311 line for nonemergency city services.

The weather was so cold that 400 traffic lights stopped working early Saturday, Bloomberg said, adding that all but 40 were back in service by afternoon.

Bloomberg was about to head for warmer climes. He was preparing to depart for a working visit to Jamaica today.

For those not leaving town, the mayor offered advice about bundling up, using space heaters cautiously and refraining from drinking too much. “Alcohol doesn’t make you any warmer at all,” Bloomberg said. “It just takes away maybe your common sense.”

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Several New Yorkers were treated for hypothermia, including a Manhattan woman who accidentally locked herself out of her apartment and spent several hours on her fifth-floor balcony without an overcoat.

Two people died of hypothermia in Boston, including a man found frozen on a park bench.

In northern New Hampshire on Saturday, predawn temperatures fell far below zero. Democratic presidential hopefuls nonetheless went through their frozen paces, preparing for the Granite State’s Jan. 27 primary. During back-to-back appearances at Concord High School, candidates Howard Dean and Wesley K. Clark each received down-filled vests, which they quickly donned.

At New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Observatory, site of some of the most extreme winter weather in the United States, the Saturday afternoon temperature rose above minus 20 degrees, with winds of about 60 mph. The coldest so far this winter was minus 38 earlier last week.

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“It’s not too bad. It’s clear, so it’s a nice day to go outside,” said Dan Solari, a meteorological observer. “You want to bundle up, though, and make sure there’s no skin exposed.”

Members of New York’s Coney Island Polar Bear Club shunned such advice and went ahead with their customary dip in the frigid Atlantic on Saturday.

Meanwhile, 200 miles north, fans of the New England Patriots poured into Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., for the team’s Saturday night playoff game against the Tennessee Titans.

In a concession to the single-digit temperatures, the team relaxed its security strictures and allowed fans to carry blankets inside the stadium. Battery-powered hand warmers also were being supplied to fans on a first-come, first-served basis. The Patriots prevailed on their hard-as-a-rock home turf, winning 17-14.

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The weather in Quincy, Mass., just south of Boston, was so cold Friday that officials cut short the dedication of an ice-skating rink.

New York City police and social-service workers took to the streets to make sure that the city’s estimated 38,500 homeless people were able to find shelter. The homeless population in New York, as in other cities, has been on the rise for the last five years, largely for economic reasons, Linda Gibbs, commissioner of the New York Department of Homeless Services, said in an interview Saturday.

The city’s 200 shelters for homeless single adults reported 8,500 occupants Friday night, about 200 more than normal for this time of year, Gibbs said.

The city-funded, privately operated John Heuss House, like other drop-in centers in New York, was filled nearly to capacity, with 95 people showing up for breakfast Saturday, according to Susan La-Rose, assistant director of the facility. The shelter is in the basement of a City Sanitation Department building in Lower Manhattan.

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Outside the center Saturday as the afternoon light began to fade, a middle-aged man in a New York Giants warmup jacket stood on a sidewalk grate, smoking a cigarette.

The man, who identified himself only as Carl, said he planned to have dinner at the drop-in center and then perhaps spend the night at his sister’s apartment. “I’ve got options,” he said.

And better weather in his future. The forecast for much of New York and the Northeast today: cloudy and not as cold.

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Times staff writer Elizabeth Mehren in Boston contributed to this report.


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