The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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January 5, 2014

Region braces for frigid forecast

JOHNSTOWN — A polar front will sweep bitter cold – and dangerous – weather conditions into much of the nation early this week.

And it likely will bring the most frigid temperatures the Johnstown and Somerset areas have seen in decades – a rare, potentially record-breaking forecast that local residents should prepare for even if they are staying indoors, meteorologists said Sunday.

“This is probably the coldest air people have seen in 20 years. Temperatures are going to steadily drop (today) and it’s going to be bitterly cold,” National Weather Service meteorologist Elyse Colbert said.

What forecasters call a polar vortex – a counter-clockwise rotating pool of North Pole air – has moved its way farther south than usual and will hit the U.S. Combining already cold conditions with the 15 to 25 mph winds the front will bring threatens the likelihood of temperatures that will feel like 30 to 40 below zero with wind chills factored in Tuesday, she said.

Tonight’s predicted low is 12 degrees below zero, Colbert said.

The message: be ready for it.

For those venturing outdoors, bundle up in multiple layers and leave nothing exposed to the cold air, if possible, she said.

“When you are dealing with weather like this, frostbite and hypothermia are going to be big concerns. Don’t go outside unless you have to,” Colbert said, noting it can take only a few minutes for frostbite to set in.

Pets, even with their furry coats, “are just as susceptible to frostbite as we are,” she added, saying to keep them indoors as much as possible.

Area residents appeared to be preparing for winter’s worst Sunday. Grocery store parking lots throughout Johnstown were packed with cars.

But grocers like Market Basket manager Gary Swan said they, too, prepare for frigid forecasts.

“If anything, we over prepare,” Swan said, noting management pays close attention to storm predictions.

The staples – milk, bread and the meat counter – often get hit hard by customers preparing for the worst, he said.

“Even just gallons of water – people go for it just in case they get stranded,” Swan said while shoppers pushed carts behind him in the Richland store.

Local suppliers like Galliker’s often bring four deliveries of milk a day when winter weather is on its way, he said. Typically, the store might only need one truckload, he said.

Along Osborne Street, Andy Nosko of Roxbury was among the shoppers heading out of Randy’s BiLo in Johnstown.

But he said he had already stocked up on his household’s milk, water and other needs.

“We’re set for the week. We’re just going to stay indoors if we can and try to stay warm,” Nosko said.  

Chris Knotts of Benscreek said she won’t be so lucky. She has to drive to work all week.

“It means dress warm, keep your body covered and just deal with it,” she said, maintaining she’s trying to stay positive – but realistic – about the frigid forecast.

“It could be worse. It gets to be more than 100 below zero in Alaska.”

In the Cambria-Somerset area, temperatures are expected to begin to rise Wednesday, although highs are only supposed to climb into the 20s, Colbert said.

Highs will reach the 30s and, possibly, low 40s by Friday, she said.

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