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NH officials urge caution amid 'gnarly' below-freezing forecast

Dan Tuohy
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on a freezing New Hampshire morning.

New Hampshire is expected to experience wind chills that could be “once in a generation cold” Friday and Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

Gov. Chris Sununu joined other state officials and the Mount Washington Observatory Director of Weather Operations for a press conference Thursday to discuss how the state is preparing.

“What we're likely to encounter over the next 36 to 48 hours is going to be really unprecedented. It really is something that we're taking extremely seriously statewide,” Sununu said. “Be a good neighbor. Check in on your family members. Check in on folks that might be elderly. Check in on folks that might have some additional needs.”

The cold in the next couple of days could become life-threatening in a short amount of time for people outside. Wind chills could fall under 40 below zero, which can cause frostbite in as little as 10 minutes, according to the National Weather Service. Hypothermia is also possible and can be deadly.

Read more about how to prepare for this weekend’s extreme cold.

New Hampshire’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Robert Buxton warned Granite Staters to get ready, and know the signs of cold-weather illness.

Signs of hypothermia include shivering, slowed speech, drowsiness, confusion and cold, pale skin. Those experiencing symptoms should call for emergency help immediately.

Buxton also encouraged residents to have an emergency plan.

“Make sure you have a winter emergency kit that has approximately three days worth of supplies in it, including blankets, flashlight and extra batteries. If you must go outside, please make sure that you’re clothing yourself in layers.”

Loose-fitting warm layers are better than one layer of heavy clothing, according to guidancefrom the National Health Care for the Homeless Council. Keeping dry and wearing a warm hat and scarf are also important.

This winter, advocates and local leaders have called on the state government to take more action to meet the needs of unhoused people in New Hampshire, after a series of tragedies this winter.

During the press conference, Sununu said the state was working with local leaders to reach out to people experiencing homelessness to make sure people know about the shelter resources that will be available during the cold snap.

Chris Santaniello, associate commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, says the state has been preparing to help people experiencing homelessness, and others who need a warm place to stay.

“Many shelters are at capacity, but we work with them to figure out ways during these extreme weathers to expand that capacity.”

Santaniello said the state’s emergency shelters usually have capacity for about 750 people. During cold weather, regional teams work to provide additional resources in each county – some shelters and some hotel room openings.

“They all have plans for people. Many of them have transportation to pick people up, allow them to bring their belongings with them,” Santaniello said.

Some parts of New Hampshire also have shelters not funded by the state, and state officials encouraged local leaders to put their information into the state’s WebEOC, a crisis and disaster management system.

Sununu said he has not activated the New Hampshire National Guard for the extreme cold, though they are ready to step in if needed.

Granite Staters looking for a place to stay warm can try calling 2-1-1, reaching out to their local welfare office, or using the shelter directories on the health department’s website.

Gusty winds could cause power outages. The state’s largest electric utility, Eversource, says it has been preparing for that possibility. Granite Staters should report outages to their utility and stay away from downed power lines.

Jay Broccolo, Director of Weather Operations at the Mount Washington Observatory, said the coming days could lead to a “very bad situation” above treeline.

Buildings in the higher parts of the White Mountains are closed, there is limited staff on duty, and it will be difficult for rescue services to come out, he said.

“This weekend’s forecast is looking pretty gnarly even for our standards,” he said.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.
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