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Valley plunged into deep freeze

| Friday, Jan. 16, 2009

The deep freeze that numbed the Midwest has finally made its way to the Mid-Mon Valley, sending thermometers plunging and people scrambling for ways to keep warm and safe.

After a high of 12 by 2 p.m. Thursday, the temperature kept dipping throughout the evening and overnight, eventually reaching zero by 1 a.m. and minus 6 by 9 this morning.

Today's high was only expected to reach 6 above, and dip to minus 4 tonight.

Saturday's high is expected to reach 19. Some scattered snow flurries are expected, but with no accumulation.

Temperatures will hold steady with a low of 17 Saturday night before rising to 30 on Sunday.

Highs should be in the low-to-mid 20s on Monday and Tuesday and finally get above freezing by midweek, with highs in the low to mid-30s Wednesday and Thursday.

Luther Sheets, chief operating officer for Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services in Charleroi, said various programs at the social services agency has received numerous weather-related calls involving heating assistance and problems with water pipe breaks at assisted-living facilities.

No meals were being offered today at local senior centers because of the weather, Sheets said, noting that SPHS officials do not want to encourage people to go out in the cold, although the centers will be open.

SPHS employees are calling the roughly 500 seniors in their home-delivered programs this morning to inform them that meals will not be delivered to their homes today.

Every November, each senior receives a three-day supply of "emergency" meals for days like today. They will be called today and encouraged to use one of those meals.

The calls are also to check on the seniors to make sure they are safe, Sheets said.

The extreme weather can cause health hazards too.

According to Dr. Brenda Walther, director of emergency services at Monongahela Valley Hospital, heart attacks are common among persons who attempt to hurriedly shovel snow when they usually are inactive, perhaps overweight or elderly.

"Temperatures outside may seem relatively warm - perhaps in the twenties - but that creates snow that is wet and heavy," Walther said. "Shoveling wet, heavy snow can create great stress on a heart that is unaccustomed to such exhausting activity.

"Light and fluffy snow may seem easier to shovel, but it usually is present when temperatures are closer to zero. The colder air makes the heart work harder to keep the body warm. In this case, the heart is already stressed and snow removal could result in tragic consequences."

Walther suggested the following:

n If you must shovel snow, take your time and take frequent rest breaks.

n If there is any question at all about your ability to remove the snow, consult your doctor first.

n Consider investing in a snowblower.

n Always dress properly, including layers of warm clothing, gloves and hats prevent the loss of excessive body heat, and avoid frostbite and hypothermia.

Low temperatures also can heighten the dangers of carbon monoxide.

"Carbon monoxide can be deadly anytime of the year," said Walther. "But it is especially a potential killer in the fall and winter when people are running their furnaces more because of the cold weather."

Walther emphasized that carbon monoxide detectors in the home are a "good solution" in becoming aware of potential problems.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are "vague, gradually occurring," which is why it can happen so frequently, Walther said.

"People experience headaches, dizziness, weakness and nausea and often feel as if they are coming down with the flu or a stomach virus," she continued. "If the exposure (to carbon monoxide) is more severe, you can experience chest pain, passing out, breathing problems, and, in the worst case, death."

Carbon monoxide comes from the burning of organic materials such as gas or kerosene in furnaces, hot water heaters, stoves, Sterno and similar equipment.

"As the weather gets colder and we are using our heating systems more, people should be more aware of the symptoms for carbon monoxide poisoning," she stated.

"If you feel the symptoms are due to carbon monoxide poisoning, leave your residence and contact the Poison Center at (412)

681-6669. They will direct you on the appropriate action to take. If you have any severe symptoms, you should call your family doctor or go to the hospital emergency department immediately."

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