Pittsburgh region braces for bitter cold over next 3 days

Wind chill watch issued for below-zero temps, worst in nearly two decades

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Tomorrow's transition between mayoral administrations won't affect preparations for the bone-chilling cold front heading Pittsburgh's way, according to city officials.

In the coming days the Pittsburgh region will feel its coldest air in nearly two decades, according to a National Weather Service wind chill watch issued Saturday morning. The watch is in effect from 1 p.m. Monday through Wednesday morning.

A cold front hitting Western Pennsylvania tonight will bring with it wind chills of between minus-25 and minus-40 degrees by Monday night and continuing through early Wednesday, according to the weather service.

The wind chill watch covers Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Indiana, Lawrence, and Westmoreland counties.

The weather service forecasts winds from the west of 10 to 20 mph with gusts of up to 30 mph.

Expected temperatures are between minus-10 and minus-15 degrees Monday night, between 2 and minus-5 degrees Tuesday and between zero and minus-10 degrees Tuesday night.

For the incoming Peduto administration, which has moved the Monday inauguration ceremony from the steps of the City-County Building, Downtown, to Heinz Hall to avoid the frigid temperatures, working with members of the outgoing Ravenstahl administration is essential. Kevin Acklin, the incoming chief of staff, said there will be no changes to directors' positions on Monday. Outgoing Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's public safety director, Michael Huss, was working on a plan Saturday to coordinate community warming centers and to prepare personnel for the hazardous conditions.

Mr. Huss said the city has established four warming centers in senior community centers in Greenfield, Sheraden, Homewood and the South Side. Mayor-elect Bill Peduto's chief operations officer Guy Costa will distribute a complete list of warming centers today.

"We're definitely aware that this is the coldest weather we have anticipated in decades. We're preparing for it," Mr. Acklin said.

Making sure that city employees and equipment withstand the cold is another primary concern, said Mr. Huss. He said he has been in contact with fleet maintenance company First Vehicle Services to put them on alert for the possibility of weather-related breakdowns. He also said he is advising employees working outdoors to dress in layers, to make sure they aren't exposing any skin to the elements and to "understand the seriousness" that comes with the wind chill. Portable heaters will be provided for emergency personnel and others who will spend extended periods outdoors.

"It hasn't been this cold in 20 years. A lot of them haven't worked in this type of weather before," he said.

Mr. Huss said emergency personnel and police will give calls related to falls or outdoor injuries a higher priority than normal, due to concerns surrounding hypothermia. He added that police will keep an eye out for homeless individuals to steer them toward warming centers.

More than anything, Mr. Huss emphasized a need for members of the public to take the severe weather warnings and potential for hypothermia seriously. A list of cold weather tips on the Allegheny County website notes that hypothermia occurs when someone's body temperature drops below 95 degrees and says people should maintain a household temperature of 70 degrees or to dress warmly with blankets and hats.

Mr. Huss encouraged the public to make checking on elderly neighbors and children a priority.

Deborah M. Todd: dtodd@post-gazette.com. Jacob Quinn Saunders: jsaunders@-post-gazette.com.

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