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Snow and cold wallop state

Friday afternoon, the White Park pond in Concord saw single-digit temperatures, a below-zero windchill and about 30 people playing hockey, skidding across ice in sleds and skating. Clockwise from top left: John Keusch, Myana Keusch, 11, and Eniscia Gill-Foster, 5, and Zuza Blaszczak, 11. 

(ANDREA MORALES/Monitor staff)

Friday afternoon, the White Park pond in Concord saw single-digit temperatures, a below-zero windchill and about 30 people playing hockey, skidding across ice in sleds and skating. Clockwise from top left: John Keusch, Myana Keusch, 11, and Eniscia Gill-Foster, 5, and Zuza Blaszczak, 11. (ANDREA MORALES/Monitor staff)

With the holidays in the rearview mirror, January’s cruelty took center stage late this week, as near-record low temperatures were predicted for Concord last night following Thursday’s snowstorm.

And with that cruelty came varying experiences in a state known for its tough winters.

A low of minus 18 degrees, without the windchill, was expected last night, challenging Concord’s record low of minus 21 degrees set Jan. 3, 1968.

Worse, said Andy Pohl, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine, the forecast for Coos County last night called for minus 30 degrees without factoring in the windchill.

“That’s cold,” Pohl said.

The deep freeze followed Thursday’s snowstorm that slammed New England, with a pair of Massachusetts towns, Boxford and Topsfield, recording nearly 2 feet of snow by yesterday morning, Pohl said.

In New Hampshire, Newbury led the way with 12.5 inches, while Concord received 7.8 inches.

That led to numerous headaches for drivers and residents, including the shutdown of Interstate 93 near the Bow junction Thursday morning due to several accidents. Illegally parked cars downtown Thursday night also caused problems, as plows tried to clear roads before the morning commute.

“We were very busy (Thursday) night dealing with car removals because of the ban that was in effect,” said Lt. Timothy O’Malley of the Concord Police Department.

O’Malley said that the police would be on alert last night to help the homeless.

“We will work to facilitate anything if we encounter someone in that situation,” he said. “We’ve provided transports when we encounter those situations. We’ve had people come in (our) lobby in this type of weather, and we’ve tried to work with them to get them to a shelter.

“We understand that this type of cold can be life threatening,” he added.

Concord’s two overnight cold-weather shelters, at South Congregational Church and First Congregational Church, opened last month and have room for about 80 people overall, said Bill Watson, director of the program.

On average, between 15 and 20 beds between the two sites have gone unused in recent nights, Watson said.

“We expect the numbers are going to rise with temps like this,” Watson said. “So we make sure that we have enough drivers to get people to our sites, and we have a good supply of warm clothing, boots, socks, gloves and hand warmers.”

More than most, Watson has seen the effect this sort of weather can have on people. He said a shelter resident tried to put windshield wiper fluid in his car Thursday morning, when the temperature wasn’t nearly as low as what was expected last night and this morning.

“He got some on his hands and they froze with the fluid on them,” Watson said. “With the cold weather, it felt like it was burning him, and he was still in a lot of pain last night.

“We know other people will be suffering from hypothermia and frostbite issues if they’re not covered,” he added.

Nick Wallner of the AAA office in Concord also had warnings for the public. As of late yesterday afternoon, his organization, which includes memberships in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, had been averaging between 350 and 400 calls each half-hour.

“Most of the calls are for jump-starts,” Wallner said. “We’re finding that people have stretched the limits of their battery capabilities. We’re seeing six- to eight-year-old batteries that need service, when the normal usable life span of a battery is usually three to five years.”

Other problems, Wallner said, have involved keys locked in cars, occurring when motorists turn on their vehicles, then go inside while waiting for them to warm up.

Elsewhere, Tim Sink, president of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce, said winter may take a bite out of business, but the long-range forecast is a different story.

“The inconvenience may keep people away for a little while, but it generates traffic in terms of additional tourism into the state, and we get a piece of that,” Sink said. “People do use Concord as a base of operations if they’re going to ski. The summer beats out winter in terms of tourism in New Hampshire, but not by much. There’s a lot of activity in the winter.”

Yesterday, with the wind whipping and the temperature dropping by the hour, most businesses were quiet, including Roy Nails and Spa on South Main Street.

Usually packed during Friday’s lunch hour, only a few diehards showed up to be pampered.

One of them, Sarah Longval of Boscawen, said, “It makes you feel good; it makes you feel warm. I would come here in a blizzard when it comes to getting my nails done.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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