PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Bone-chilling temperatures prompted closure of schools in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on Monday and led to equipment failures that cut power to thousands of customers as the commonwealth was warned to prepare for the arrival of even more snow overnight.
The cold prompted the closure of public schools in Pittsburgh and all parish and regional Catholic elementary schools in Philadelphia. High school teachers in the Philadelphia archdioceses were already scheduled to take part in a staff development day, and public schools in the Philadelphia district were closed anyway for President’s Day.
All public schools were closed in the Pittsburgh school district, which tweeted “Some buses would be late, too cold for that. Read a good book!” Many other school districts in the Pittsburgh area announced two-hour delays Monday as the mercury dipped to minus-6 degrees, one degree off the all-time record for the date set in 1963.
The National Weather Service said a low temperature of 3 degrees was recorded at 7:35 a.m. at Philadelphia International Airport. That’s just under the record for the date of 2 degrees set way back in 1888. It’s been a decade since a 3-degree temperature was recorded in the city in January 2005. And it hasn’t been 2 degrees in more than two decades – during the winter of 1994, when the mercury dipped to 5-below.
The cold hampered firefighters working in the early morning hours to extinguish a blaze in a three-story building in west Philadelphia, leaving the structure coated in icicles and more icicles hanging from the end of the firefighters’ hoses.
Thousands of electric customers in northwestern Pennsylvania woke up to find themselves in record cold without power. Scott Surgeoner, spokesman for FirstEnergy, told the Erie Times-News that 5,500 customers in Erie County were without power as of 8 a.m. Monday. Just after noon, the company’s outage map showed just over 2,000 customers without power.
Surgeoner said most of the outages were due to equipment failure caused by extreme cold. The county emergency management department said four warming shelters had been set up in the area for those without power.
The National Weather Service reported that the all-time record low temperature for Erie was tied Monday. At 6:44 a.m. Monday, the mercury plummeted to 18 degrees below zero, tying the lowest temperature ever recorded for Erie back in January of 1994.
Several thousand customers also lost power in northeastern Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County, but most had been restored by midafternoon Monday.
UGI Utilities said about 1,500 customers lost power at about 9:30 p.m. Sunday, most of them in Newport Township, but spokesman Joe Swope said all had service restored by 12:35 a.m. Monday. PPL PPL reported on its outage map that 1,164 Luzerne County customers were without power Monday, many of them in Plains Township, but the company said most had power back by midafternoon.
The weather service said temperatures were at record or near-record levels in many places. In Reading in eastern Pennsylvania, forecasters reported a temperature of 1 degree below zero that broke the previous record of zero degrees for the date, which occurred in 1904. The minus-17 in Dubois broke the old record of minus-10 set for the date in 1963. In Harrisburg and Williamsport, the mercury tied records of 0 and minus-5, respectively, set for the date in 1905.
Residents dealing with the cold were warned they would have to deal with snow overnight, with 3 to 5 inches expected in Philadelphia and 4 to 6 inches expected in some southern parts of central Pennsylvania.