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Region to get hit by major winter storm as deep freeze continues

New London — As southeastern Connecticut residents continue to deal with record low temperatures, they're now about to be hit by a harsh winter storm.

Both Monday and Tuesday saw temperatures in the region fall to 0 degrees, breaking the previous coldest-day records. But unfortunately that may not be the worst of it as a major winter storm is expected to hit the region early Thursday carrying moderate snowfall and high winds.

And the cold will continue.

"We do expect the colder than normal conditions to continue at least through Sunday," said Gary Lessor, a meteorologist and assistant director with the Weather Center at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. "Following the storm it may get brutally cold. ... It may actually get colder than we have had so far."

The weather is part of a cold snap that began shortly after Christmas and has swept through the northern United States. The low temperatures locally have been heightened by cold air, which built up in Northern Canada, sliding into New England and then getting trapped by a ridge of high pressure near Greenland, Lessor said.

Southeastern Connecticut in particular has been uncharacteristically cold during this spell and although Lessor forecasts the area seeing a slight rise in temperature Wednesday with a high of 30-32 degrees, things are likely to get worse. 

Thursday's storm is expected to bring 4 to 10 inches of snow, as well as gusty winds that could be around 20 mph by Friday, said Lessor, who highlighted the winds as particularly problematic. 

He said if temperatures get down to 0 degrees Friday or Saturday and there is 18 mph wind, the wind chill factor would be about 21 below zero.

But even prior to the weather taking a turn for the worse, freezing temperatures have already wreaked havoc in the southeastern Connecticut area.

From Dec. 26 to Tuesday, the New London Fire Department has received 18 water emergency calls, said Fire Chief Henry Kydd Jr. These water emergencies are often in relation to leaks and pipes bursting, a common byproduct of freezing temperatures.

These pipes have broken in a variety of places ranging from streets and residential houses to large facilities such as schools. The Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School announced Tuesday that it will be closed this week because of water damage the school sustained from burst pipes.

The school district hosted a public meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the school cafeteria to discuss the condition of the school, the causes of the damage and the steps being taken to prevent a recurrence of the incident.

The high number of broken pipes also represent a stark contrast to just a year ago when the area had a milder winter.

"This time last year we weren't even considering water emergencies," Kydd said.

He added that he expects those numbers to continue to rise both during the cold snap and even afterward as temperatures warm up, citing concern that there are pipes that freeze, go unnoticed, and then thaw and burst. Kydd also said homeowners should be "cautious" about trying to save money by lowering their thermostats during the cold spell, and that even setting them at 50 is likely too low.

Damage caused by the extreme cold conditions goes beyond broken pipes, though.

On Tuesday, the Shaw's Cove railroad bridge was stuck open for more than 30 minutes due to lubricants that help the bridge go up and down freezing, said Jason Abrams, a spokesman for Amtrak.

The bridge also stuck last Thursday night, delaying trains for several hours.

Local businesses are seeing the ramifications of the cold as well.

Since Friday, Advanced Auto Parts in New London has sold about 150 car batteries, which a staff member credited to a mix of an increase in holiday sales, dying batteries and just general concern over battery life in the freezing temperatures.

Similarly, Densmore Oil Co. in Mystic received more than 50 calls on Tuesday, many of which were from people looking for oil deliveries or wanting to service their heating systems, said Jamie Densmore, who does operations and business development for the company.

Densmore added that one of the biggest priorities for the company during this harsh weather is ensuring the safety of their customers and drivers, and she encourages people to do things such as maintaining a clear path to the fill pipe, clearing one's power venters and calling for service early if they are not on automatic delivery.

Even at Mystic Aquarium, steps are being taken to deal with the brutal conditions.

During harsh cold weather the staff adopts different provisions to limit time outside, as well as wearing different clothing, said Dale Wobrink, a spokesperson for the aquarium. 

And although some of the aquarium's seals and beluga whales feel right at home in the Arctic-like conditions, the resident penguins do not and move inside as soon as the temperature falls below 25 degrees, Wobrink said. They are still accessible to guests inside the aquarium at the Penguin Encounter zone.


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