BENNINGTON >> With the temperatures dipping to the coldest we have seen all winter, people and organizations around the state are urging Vermonters to stay safe and stay warm this weekend.
The Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security has issued Wind Chill Warnings for most of the state from 4 a.m. Saturday through 7 p.m. Sunday, with wind chill temperatures expected to plunge to between 25 and 40 degrees below zero. The National Weather Service has said that wind chills could drop as low as 60 degrees below zero, and has issued a wind chill warning through 1 p.m. on Sunday.
"Vermonters are used to cold Februaries, but the forecast for this weekend is for frigid temperatures that can be potentially dangerous," said Governor Peter Shumlin in a release. He encouraged residents to take the time to check on the welfare of elderly family, friends, and neighbors, and be sure to dress appropriately for the conditions and avoid spending too much time outside.
The Red Cross is also offering advice on ways to stay safe when temperatures drop this far. "This extreme cold can be dangerous but there are ways to combat it," said Regional CEO Maria Devlin, "We want everyone to know how to safely ride out these winter conditions." They suggest wearing multiple layers of lightweight clothing and watching for signs of hypothermia, confusion, dizziness, exhaustion, and severe shivering, and frostbite, including numbness, flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration, numbness, or waxy feeling skin. They also remind people to be safe while heating their homes by never using a stove or oven for heat; making sure space heaters are placed on level surfaces away from flammable objects; making sure fireplaces have a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs; and remembering to turn off space heaters and make sure embers are extinguished before going to bed. Pets should also be brought indoors if possible, as temperatures this low can be extremely dangerous.
Chris Oldham, executive director of the Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless, said that he expects their shelter, which has 10 beds, will be full this weekend, but said that his organization works with the Department of Economic Services to provide motel vouchers to those in need of shelter when temperatures dip low enough to trigger the state's Cold Weather Exception, which eases the restrictions on accessing the state's General Assistance and Emergency Assistance funds. The Department of Children and Families has already declared that the CWE will be in effect through at least Monday.
"There are hundreds of people who are homeless in the area," he said, "and the needs outpace the resources." He said that the shelter would be open during the day for people to come in, get warm, have a meal, shower, and get a change of clothes, regardless if the beds are full. He said anyone who is looking for shelter should contact the coalition at 802-442-2424, or visit the shelter on North Street. They are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Oldham said that staff members have been trying to spread the word to people who may be in need of shelter, and has been stocking up on food and bedding supplies. "My staff are anticipating a busy few days," he said.