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Extreme cold grips Northeast U.S., forcing some schools to close

A pedestrian walks past a fountain in New York.
A person walks past a fountain with icicles in New York.
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

A mass of arctic air swept into the Northeast on Tuesday, bringing bone-chilling subzero temperatures and closing schools across the region for the second time in less than a week.

High temperatures were not expected to make it out of the teens and 20s in most spots, with single digits in many areas, especially northern New England, according to the National Weather Service. But things felt even worse because of the wind, which made it feel below zero for many.

Schools in Massachusetts’ three largest cities — Boston, Worcester and Springfield — canceled classes, saying they did not want children standing outside for extended periods of time waiting for buses.

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“There has been an increase of COVID with transportation personnel, which would result in buses running up to 30 minutes late,” according to a tweet from the Worcester public schools. “The safety of our students and staff are always the focus of our decisions.”

Low temperatures can result in frostbite to exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes, according to the National Weather Service.

For parents who had to work, the YMCA of Central Massachusetts provided a safe, warm place for their children.

“Anytime there’s school closures we open up our all-day programming so that parents can still continue to work and have the children at our location,” President and Chief Executive David Connell said.

Syracuse, N.Y.; Manchester, N.H.; and Burlington, Vt., were among communities that also closed public schools. The closures came just a few days after many schools closed because of snow Friday.

Some coronavirus testing sites in New Hampshire and Massachusetts closed in response to the cold, and warming centers opened across the region for people who needed temporary shelter from the bitter cold. Rhode Island opened warming centers across the state, and in Boston, Mayor Michelle Wu reminded residents that the city’s network of public libraries were open for people looking for a place to warm up.

Some people took the cold in stride.

“We live in the Northeast in winter — it goes with the territory,” said Michael Davis as he walked his dog in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Tuesday morning.

Others struggled, despite new winter gear.

“I bought this really expensive coat on Amazon, and it’s the best purchase I’ve ever made, but it’s not enough,” said Katie Cronin, who was also in Brooklyn.

The frigid cold was the likely cause of a water main break in downtown Boston that forced street closures and turned the area into an icy mess, a spokesperson for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission said.

The freezing temperatures were caused by a pocket of cold air descending from Canada, but the good news is that it is expected to be a short-lived cold spell, said Bill Simpson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Norton, Mass., office.

“We’re getting an arctic cold front with northwest flow, quickly switching to a southwest flow,” he said, adding temperatures are expected to rise to about 40 degrees in the Boston area later in the week.

Wind chill temperatures in areas near Lake Erie and Lake Ontario in New York state were expected to drop as low as minus 30 degrees. To make matters worse, parts of the state were expected to be hit with up to 2 feet of lake-effect snow and winds gusting up to 40 mph.

The high temperature in Vermont on Tuesday was expected to be several degrees below zero in some areas with wind chills of up to minus 35.

In New Hampshire, it was minus 26 degrees atop Mt. Washington — known for its weather extremes — with a wind chill of nearly minus 72 degrees as of 8 a.m. That was actually warmer than earlier in the morning.

The Mt. Washington Observatory posted a photo on Facebook of a frozen plate of spaghetti supporting a fork.

Temperatures dropped into the single digits in many areas of Massachusetts, with the wind chill making it feel well below zero.

The Bureau of Motor Vehicles branch in Bangor, Maine, where the wind made it feel minus 17 degrees, was temporarily closed because of a lack of heat but reopened later in the day.

Central Maine Power encouraged customers to weatherstrip windows and open drapes to let in heat from the sun and allow sunlight to reduce reliance on electricity, and warned people to be careful when using space heaters. A malfunctioning electric space heater was blamed for a fire Sunday in New York that killed 17 people.

Associated Press writers Julie Walker in New York; Michael Hill in Albany, N.Y.; Lisa Rathke in Marshfield, Vt.; Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine; and Kathy McCormack in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.


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