One thing that I have grown to love in the Johnstown area is the snowy winters. The snow just adds a layer of beauty to the forest and mountains that surround us. A part of that is the cold weather. But cold weather is an understatement over the next couple of days. As Winter Storm Ion has passes through the area, it will bring with it the typical snow and wind, but also some bitterly cold temperatures.
Temperatures began at midnight still around 40 degrees and have been dropping since. Temperatures are forecast to drop throughout the day with high winds continuing to blow. Overnight the temperatures are expected to drop below 10 below zero. Tomorrow is not expected to be much better with temperatures struggling to get back to zero. Factor in the wind and the temperatures will feel much worse. This has prompted the National Weather Service to issue a Wind Chill Warning for the Alleghenies from 3:00 p.m. Monday through noon on Wednesday. Wind chills during this time could be as low as -40 degrees.
While these cold temperatures are great for snow making, these extreme wind chills can produce many dangers. Frost bite and hypothermia are both a high threat over the next couple of days. The extremities such as fingers, toes, ears, and noses are at the most risk during extreme cold periods. It is important to dress in layers and cover all exposed skin. Take frequent breaks from the cold to allow your body to warm up. If you are hitting the slopes in the Johnstown area, don’t rely on alcohol to warm you up. Alcohol actually has the opposite effect. Save the alcohol for after you are done and at home or your hotel.
In addition to the dangers to personal safety, the extreme temperatures can even make it more difficult to get somewhere. In the Alleghenies, road crews rely heavily on salt to keep the roads clear. This works pretty well. However, salt works by lowering the freezing point of water. This can only be lowered so much. Road salt loses its effectiveness below 15 degrees. So with the low temperatures predicted over the next couple of days, even a treated and salted road can have ice on it. Use caution when driving to the ski resorts. Make sure that you have a cold weather safety kit in the car. This should include blankets and extra food. Make sure that you have plenty of gas so that the engine may be kept running if you get stuck.
One other precaution is the first principle in the Leave No Trace initiative, know before you go. Know what the forecast is and go well prepared. This includes taking a change of clean dry clothing including socks as I learned the hard way. Wet clothing can make the body more susceptible to frost bite and hypothermia. And as a last suggestion, check the operation hours at the resort. While we can expect to be in cold weather while we are skiing, there are times when weather conditions warrant closing the slopes or adjusting the operating hours. At this time most of the area ski resorts are operating on a regular schedule. This includes Hidden Valley, Seven Springs, Wisp, and Whitetail. However, Blue Knob has announced that they will be open from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. today and tomorrow. They will resume their regular hours on Wednesday, January 8.
My best advice would be to put off your trip until it is a little warmer if possible. However, if you do choose to go outside, bundle up and take proper precautions. Stay warm Johnstown outdoors enthusiasts.