By James Niedzinski
---- — GLOUCESTER — Cape Ann may have missed that snowstorm predicted for Tuesday, but it could not escape Wednesday’s big chill.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projected that temperatures would all to 4 degrees overnight, with a wind-chill factor of minus-12. And those wind-chill numbers are expected to remain well below zero today, with highs forecast at up to 20 degrees today — accompanied by 18 mile-per-hour winds with gusts of 30 mph or more.
As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, the temperature in Gloucester was 10 degrees – at the same time Gnome, Alaska, reported a temperature of 16.
None of those statistics, however, mattered to National Grid crews working a road project along Prospect Street Wednesday morning, and Gloucester police officers who were working on traffic detail and trying to stay warm.
Officer William Cahill could only describe the weather as “freezing” as he did his best to stay in the sunlight.
Officer Mark Foote said the he layered up well before venturing out into the cold, putting on two layers of socks and making good use of his hand warmers. Foote said he has been working the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. detail for about 11 days now, with work expected to continue today.
Construction crews and public employees weren’t not the only ones bearing the brunt of the cold weather.
The rotating aid shelter, the Grace Center, as well as the Action Inc. shelter were trying to help people who had no permanent shelter in which to seek warmth. The Grace Center provides daytime support for those who need a hot meal or someplace to stay warm, circling locations between the Third Congregational Church, St. John’s Episcopal Church and the Unitarian Universalist church. It allows people to have access to clean bathrooms and health information before the Action shelter opens at 5 p.m.
Janelle Favaloro, who is on the board of directors of the Grace Center as well as a volunteer, said Wednesday she had concerns about the homeless population in Gloucester. Favaloro said she does know of someone who sleeps in his car, and that puts him at a dire health risk when cold snaps like this occur.
”If they cannot get into the Action Shelter, there really is no backup plan,” she said.
The Action Shelter has 34 beds, and is generally at capacity, shelter executive director Tim Riley said.
”The shelter is pretty close to full on most nights,” Riley said, adding that the shelter has had to leave three to five people literally out in the cold. When a person does have to be turned away, staff members let people use a phone and try to find sleeping arrangements. In addition, the shelter accepts donations of warm clothing and blankets, which are supplied to the homeless.
Riley said local businesses, along with some city officials, have gathered 200 blankets to donate to the shelter.
Riley and other staff members have also been helping local families displaced by the fire on Perkins Street, which destroyed the top floor of an apartment building. Riley said said one of the staff members at Action was directly affected by the fire, and used to live in the building before the Friday night blaze changed their lives.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, meanwhile, has issued warnings about the cold snap and advises everyone to be prepared when traveling, to limit outdoor activities and watch for frostbite and hypothermia.
The Rockport police department, Rockport’s Council on Aging and other Cape Ann officials also reminded residents of the dangers extreme cold can pose, especially to the elderly.
One Grace Center client, who gave his name Wednesday only as “Jim,” said he has occasionally stayed at the Action shelter said many people are left out when cold snaps do occur.
Jim said he was returning to the area after living in Florida and is staying with his children. Jim described Action as a clean and safe environment and only wished the shelter was could hold more people, especially during cold snaps such as this.
“They’re doing the best they can with whatever they have,” he said.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.