Bitter cold hits Delaware

DOVER — Winter technically does not start until next week, but it looks like nobody told the climate.

Today and Friday are expected to be in the 20s, with strong winds Thursday making it feel even colder.

According to the National Weather Service, the high today is 26 degrees, and temperatures could reach as low as 12 tonight. Wind gusts of up to 41 mph are possible, although the wind should generally be in the low 20s.

The wind chill tonight could reach minus 1.

The high temperature Friday is 26, with winds of around 9 to 14 mph and a 60 percent chance of precipitation forecast at night.

The cold spell ends Saturday, and while the morning could see snow, it’s expected to turn into rain as the day warms up to 50 degrees.

Jim Bunker, the observing program leader with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, N.J., said the cold is caused by a “piece of the polar vortex that has split off.”

The polar vortex is a low-pressure area near the North Pole that sometimes expands during the winter, sending cold air south. In January 2014, a significant polar vortex caused freezing temperatures throughout the United States, including in Delaware.

Due to the cold, Code Purple is in effect in Kent County and will remain so until 7 a.m. Saturday.

Centennial Church in Smyrna and People’s Church of Dover will be open for men. For women, Wesleyan Methodist in Smyrna and the Milford Community Center open at 5 today, and Dover’s Wesley Church will begin admitting people at 5:30. Wesley Methodist, the community center and Christ Church in Dover will open at 5 Friday.

Anyone in need of shelter can call 211.

Code Purple is seeking volunteers, and anyone interested in helping can email codepurplekentcounty@gmail.com.

Although school closings or delays are generally not expected, any changes to the schedules can be seen at http://schoolclosings.delaware.gov/.

Driving tips for winter

In anticipation of the cold weather and potential snow this winter, the Delaware Department of Transportation and the Delaware American Automobile Association released guidelines earlier this week for drivers.

Drivers should stay knowledgeable of weather reports and avoid driving during snowstorms if possible. When driving in snowy conditions, go slowly and use caution, especially on bridges, which freeze before roads.

If the car starts to skid, do not panic. Ease off the accelerator and turn the steering wheel the way you want to go. Avoid oversteering, and do not slam on the brakes.

Vehicle owners should also take steps to winterize their cars soon. Check the battery — it loses a third of its strength at 32 degrees, according to AAA’s Automotive Research Center, and cold temperatures combined with a weak battery can mean a car won’t start.

Inspect engine hoses, drive belts and battery cables to be sure they are secure and undamaged.

Tires are also affected by the cold, meaning pressure should be checked more frequently. Worn-out tires should be replaced.

Drivers should check their lights, windshield wipers and brakes as well to be sure they are in working order.

In the event of an emergency, a winter road kit can be the difference between life and death. A kit should include an ice scraper, window washer solvent, warning flares or triangles, gloves, hats, blankets, flashlights with extra batteries, a snow shovel, jumper cables, drinking water, non-perishable snacks, a first-aid kit and basic tools.

Be sure to carry your phone with you at all times, and keep it charged.

Drivers should be cognizant of road restrictions issued by the state. Level 1, a warning, means motorists should avoid driving unless they have a serious health or business need. In the event of level 2, a restriction, the roads are limited to emergency workers, public utilities, health care providers, snow removal operators, food and fuel deliverers and companies that have been provided a waiver.

Level 3 is a total driving ban. It applies to everyone except first responders, utility personnel and public or private snow removal.

When snow is on the ground, snowplows are a common sight. While they are necessary for clearing roads, snowplows can also be dangerous. Drivers should stay alert when around them — most crashes involving snowplows occur when they are rear-ended by vehicles.

Drivers should not try to pass snowplows and should remain at least 10 car lengths behind them.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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