Polar Vortex Makes For Bitter Cold Across Connecticut

Polar VortexBy Christine Dempsey, David Owens and Denise Buffa, Hartford Courant

Traffic crept along ice-encrusted roads early Tuesday as plummeting temperatures replaced a brief, balmy and rainy warmup.

An overnight snow squall caused tractor trailer trucks to stop on I-84 in Tolland, where they couldn’t climb the slippery hill. That portion of the highway, between exits 67 and 68, was shut down in both directions.

Temperatures dropped into the teens and single digits across the region Monday night, freezing all that rain and melted snow. Frigid temperatures were expected to linger Tuesday, with a low of 5 degrees, FOX CT Meteorologist Joe Furey said. Wind-chill factors will likely be below zero all day Tuesday.

The National Weather Service issued a wind chill advisory for midnight until 7 a.m. Tuesday and warned that wind-chill factors could reach 20 below zero.

The deep freeze prompted schools around the state to delay the start of classes Tuesday. Even an ice skating rink – the one at Bushnell Park in Hartford — will be closed Tuesday because of the severe temperatures.

Two cars struck utility poles, one in Coventry late Tuesday morning and one earlier in Woodstock. The extent of injuries wasn’t clear.

The Coventry crash closed Route 31 between North River and Talcott Hill roads, according to the state Department of Transportation. The Woodstock crash happened about 6:30 a.m. and closed Route 197. Both repair jobs were expected to take up to 12 hours to fix.

The AAA’s Roadside Rescue Team received 351 calls for emergency road service in Greater Hartford and eastern Connecticut (Hartford, Middlesex, Tolland, Windham and New London Counties) by 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, said spokesman Aaron Kupec. A lot of the calls, such as those reporting battery problems, appear to be related to the cold, he said.

Westbound rail commuters between Bridgeport and Stamford on the New Haven line experienced delays of up to 20 minutes because of weather-related conditions, Metro North said. And Amtrak is operating on a modified schedule, with extensive delays for those traveling between New York and Washington, D.C. being blamed on problems with overhead wires in New Jersey.

Also Tuesday morning, crews worked to fix water mains in Hartford, West Hartford and South Windsor, a job made more challenging by the fact that the water flowing into the streets froze.

Customers in 39 houses had no water after a water main break on Victoria Road in Hartford, said Kerry E. Martin, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan District Commission. The leak has since been fixed. Another break in Hartford, on Standish Street, is affecting 41 houses, she said. The 6-inch water main was installed in 1898.

Twenty-four customers were without water after a break on Beezlebub Road in South Windsor, and 12 lacked water after a break on Trout Brook Drive in West Hartford.

Water main breaks are common when the temperature fluctuates because the ground shifts as it freezes and thaws.

The arctic temperatures are being brought into the region by a polar vortex, a weather phenomenon that is relatively common, Frank said.

“The polar vortex comes to visit us a couple times a year,” Frank said. “This is the year that everybody has decided to talk about it. It’s not unusual.”

The polar vortex is a weather system that exists at the Earth’s poles year round, and every once in a while a piece of the system is carried south by the jet stream.

The temperatures Tuesday will be cold, but not as cold as this past Friday and Saturday, when they plummeted to zero and below.

The National Weather Service issued a special statement Monday warning that the frigid temperatures could freeze pipes, especially in fire sprinkler systems, and cause substantial property damage.

Bitter cold on Friday and Saturday took a toll on water pipes and has kept plumbers, firefighters and insurance adjustors busy. Plumbing froze, and with Sunday’s and Monday’s thaw, the ice in those pipes melted and water began to flow through broken pipes.

The polar vortex and its frigid temperatures caused trouble in the Midwest, prompting school closures in places that rarely close schools because of snow or cold weather.

That cold has also disrupted air travel. JetBlue halted flights at LaGuardia, JFK, Newark Liberty and Logan international airports Monday as a result of weather and new pilot rest requirements. Bradley International Airport was not included in the service reduction, although JetBlue flights in and out of Bradley could be affected by weather elsewhere.

A JetBlue spokeswoman urged anyone planning to fly the airline to check the status of their flights online before heading to the airport.

Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, said 39 flights that were to depart and 27 scheduled to arrive at Bradley were canceled Monday. Officials are still not sure what impact flight disruptions elsewhere will have on flights scheduled to depart Bradley on Tuesday morning.

Dillon urged travelers to check with their airlines.

With the continuing bitter cold, police in Connecticut’s larger cities have been seeking out homeless people and urging them to take refuge in shelters.

“At all our roll calls, we talk to officers and tell them you really have to go out and find the homeless people,” said Hartford police Lt. Brian Foley. Officers have given homeless people rides to shelters, he said.

Sometimes, a person with mental illness might refuse to go to a shelter, so an officer has to use a little ingenuity — buying the person a cup of coffee and asking the store manager to look the other way as the person stays warm there, bringing the person to a hospital emergency room’s waiting area and asking the guard to look the other way, or allowing a person to remain sleeping under the stairs of a private building instead of throwing him out into the frigid cold, Foley said

“That’s the night you kind of turn a blind eye to it,” he said. “It’s that kind of stuff that you can’t really teach. It’s more we’re putting on our social worker as opposed to our cop hat.”

New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman said Mayor Toni Harp asked police to go out last week to look for homeless people and to take them to hospital emergency rooms and homeless shelters. A couple dozen people were taken to shelters.

“Everyone put in long hours keeping people out of harm’s way at Mayor Harp’s request, and we’re going to do the same thing again,” Esserman said.

Hartford’s three permanent shelters — McKinney Shelter at 34 Huyshope Ave, Immaculate Conception Shelter at 560 Park St, and South Park Inn at 75 Main St. — will remain open 24 hours as long as the temperatures are below 32 degrees, said Maribel La Luz, Mayor Pedro Segarra’s spokesperson.

Immaculate Conception Shelter, the no-freeze shelter in Hartford, normally houses 80 men but was prepared to take in 60 more, according to Teresa Wierbicki, director of development.

“What that means is that we don’t turn anyone away,” she said.

La Luz said staff at McKinney check areas where homeless people gather to pick them up and bring them to the shelter. The city is also providing money for 80 more beds at Immaculate Conception, she said.

Bridgeport police will also be “on the lookout” for the homeless and help them find shelter, according to Elaine Ficarra, a spokesperson for Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch. Operators of the city’s four homeless shelters have been told to report to city officials if the facilities fill to capacity so the city can open an emergency shelter if needed, Ficarra said.

State officials are also working to get homeless people out of the cold.

“We continue to take the necessary steps to make sure that we can take care of those in need of shelter, especially our state’s most vulnerable populations,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Monday. “I urge anyone in need of shelter to call 211 and encourage local communities to consider opening warming centers or other facilities to help people in need.”

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