It's Code Blue in New York City as the wind chill factor threatened to dip below zero late Friday and early Saturday.
New York City officials said they are sending out extra vans to encourage the homeless to take refuge indoors and have issued a "Code Blue" alert city-wide. The designation means that homeless adults can be admitted to the shelter system without applying and keeps drop-in centers open throughout the day.
The National Weather Service predicted lows of about 5 degrees Farenheit overnight. Forecasters said wind gusts reaching up to 30 miles per hour would make it feel several degrees colder, raising the dangers of hypothermia. The frigid temperatures are expected to ease later on Saturday, and the New York City Parks Department was planning a day of supervised sledding, snow angel-making contests and other events in parks throughout the city.
Lisa Black, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeless Services, said that two or three vans in each of the city's five boroughs have been making rounds to locations where the homeless normally gathered. That compares to just one van normally. In extreme cases, homeless individuals can be forcibly taken off the street, Black said, but otherwise, outreach workers try to convince people to go to a shelter or other warm place.
"Some of them, we just gave them coffee, or they went into a local Dunkin' Donuts or a local business," Black said. "As long as we knew they were safe and warm, that was our job, to get them off the streets."
City officials asked members of the public to call 311 if they encountered homeless people outdoors, or 911 if it appeared that an individual was facing severe danger. The Coalition for the Homeless also offered a list of shelters that are operating.
The weather was widely seen as posing the first major test for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who assumed office on Wednesday. But the test turned out to be an easy one. Just 6 inches of snow fell in Central Park Thursday and Friday. By comparison, the December 2010 storm that led to a major backlash against then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg dumped 20.5 inches on the city.
Early Friday morning, De Blasio cancelled public school classes—about 12 hours after urging parents to assume that school would be in session—and shortly afterwards appeared before the news media, clearing the sidewalk in front of his house in Park Slope, Brooklyn. By noon, the Department of Sanitation reported that 100 percent of primary roads and 97 percent of secondary and tertiary roads had been plowed.
Things also may have run more smoothly because most people appeared to stay home. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority reported that subway ridership during Friday morning's rush was just 40 percent of normal; Metro-North's ridership was down to 15 percent of that level, and Long Island Rail Road's was 21 percent.
In other updates:
- All express subway service overnight Friday was to be suspended to allow the MTA to store trains on express tracks and clear train yards of ice and snow.
- Alternate-side-of-the-street parking regulations in New York City remain suspended through Saturday.
- No trash or recycling will be picked up in the five boroughs until further notice
- Tenants were urged to call their building's owner or manager if they lack heat or hot water, and to call 311 if they are unable to get a response.