STATE COLLEGE Kerri Sullivan’s teeth chattered as she stood at a bus stop on East Beaver Avenue with her arms folded underneath her winter coat. With no hat on, she shrugged her shoulders and lowered her neck so the collar of her jacket was covering her ears.
“It’s cold,” Sullivan said. “I’m from Tampa, so anything colder than, like, 50 is chilly. I’ve never been in temperatures below zero.”
At about 9 a.m. on Tuesday, downtown State College registered minus 6 degrees. But that was hardly the coldest recorded temperature in Centre County, according to the National Weather Service.
In the higher elevations, early morning temperatures on Tuesday got as low as minus 10 to minus 15 degrees, said Aaron Tyburski, a meteorologist based out of the NWS State College office. In State College, he said the low on Tuesday hit 9 below zero — a record for that day since 1988, when the low was -1.
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“These readings are rare, but not a stranger to the area,” Tyburski said.
With consistent 25 mph winds throughout the day, Tyburski added that the wind chill reached minus 30 in Centre County.
In other parts of central Pennsylvania, temperature record fell as well, including minus 5 in Williamsport and 0 in Harrisburg.
Bellefonte, Bald Eagle, State College, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts announced they will operate on two-hour delays Wednesday due to the weather.
Also, Bellefonte Playschool is on a one-hour delay. Centre County Christian Academy is on a two-hour delay, as is Growing in Faith Preschool in Bellefonte, NHS School in State College, Nittany Valley Charter School, St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy and Young Scholars Charter School. Philipsburg Head Start Class 18 and Wingate Head Start Class 40 are canceled.
The high on Tuesday in State College was 5 degrees.
Forecasters called this blast of arctic air a “polar vortex.”
“The cold air is going directly south from the North Pole and northern Canada,” Tyburski said. “A polar vortex is basically a circulation of strong winds from the north and can happen during any season. It’s just more pronounced in the winter.”
Those working outdoors on Tuesday had to take extra precautions.
At Wegmans on Colonnade Boulevard, seven “helping hands” workers were on staff. Jon Malcos, front end manager, said that is about three extra staffers than usual.
Helping hands staff are responsible for bringing in carts from the parking lot and assisting customers out to their vehicles with loads of groceries.
“We’ve over-scheduled for this not because it’s busy, but because we wanted to make sure our people were safe from the cold,” Malcos said. He explained that the workers took turns on helping hands duties and working on the cash register.
While the workers were prepared in extreme winter attire, Wegmans additionally provided them with coats, hats, gloves, face shields — and free hot cocoa.
“They’re not outside much. The time is far less than usual,” Malcos said. “It’s five to 10 minute shifts then they come in.”
Kyle Ast was dressed in a large orange jacket and all the winter accessories to keep warm through his afternoon shift while temperatures barely reached the single digits.
He said he helped maintain the parking lot with the help of Malcos by checking on icy conditions and clearing the handicap parking spaces.
Store Manager Todd Strassner said that on cold days such as Tuesday, the helping hands focus sometimes switches. He said workers encouraged customers to use the drive-up service instead or walkout service, but any kind of assistance was available for for the customer, nonetheless.
Around the area, U.S. Postal Service mail carriers still went about their business.
Mail carrier Victoria Hazel has been on the job for nearly three decades and covers a downtown route — all of which was spent outdoors delivering the mail. On Tuesday, she was bundled up delivering mail on East Calder Way.
Tyburski said it is possible to get another cold blast in the area.
“Statistically, the area gets one or two of these cold snaps,” Tyburski said. “That’s just the nature of winter to see these fluctuations.”
The coldest temperature ever recorded in State College was on Feb. 10, 1899, when it reached minus 20 degrees. More recently, Tyburski said the next coldest temperature came Jan. 20, 1994, when it reached 18 below zero.
“More than anything, we want people to use common sense in this kind of weather. That’s key with extreme weather and knowing your limitations, and to dress warm and keep exposed skin covered,” Tyburski said.
Frostbite can affect exposed skin within five to 10 minutes of being outdoors in temperatures like on Tuesday, Tyburski said.
Temperatures Wednesday will rise to about 20 degrees in the area, and temperatures may reach the 30s on Thursday. By Friday and the weekend, Tyburski said temperatures will be in the low to mid-40s with a chance of rain.