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Delaware in middle of third longest cold stretch on record

Delaware Public Media

Temperatures are set to plummet to single digits this week and state health officials are warning residents to take precautions against the cold temperatures as the First State is in the middle of a long cold front.

With colder temperatures and weather advisories for possible snow, Delaware’s Division of Public Health is warning residents about the dangers of hypothermia.

Andrea Wojcik, the acting section chief for Delaware Division of Public Health’s Office of Health and Risk Communication, says hypothermia is when the body’s temperature drops quickly.

“The greatest danger to people is that it affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well,” Wojcik said. “That’s dangerous because you don’t know how cold you’re getting or what’s happening until it’s too late.”

The other danger is frostbite. Wojcik says if your skin feels numb or turns a white or grayish color after you’ve been outside, health officials recommend seeking medical help.

“The impact of the cold can hit rapidly, especially when the temperatures are this low," Wojcik said. "People don’t have to be outside for extended periods of time. Frostbite and hypothermia can occur in minutes, really.”

In 2017, four people died from cold weather in the First State, according to Kimberly Chandler, a spokeswoman for Delaware's Division of Forensic Science. In 2016, three people died from the cold and there were five cold weather-related deaths in 2015.

According to the Old Farmers’ Almanac, frostbite can happen in 30 minutes if a temperature of zero degrees Fahrenheit and wind speed of 15 miles per hour produces a -19 degrees Fahrenheit wind chill. 

Delaware is experiencing a cold front with temperatures below freezing that started Dec. 26, 2017, according to the National Weather Service of Mount Holly, New Jersey. Meteorologist Sarah Johnson says the stretch from Dec. 26 is expected through Jan. 7 and will be tied for the third longest cold stretch on record in Wilmington.

In February 1979, the Wilmington area experienced a 15-day stretch of temperatures below freezing – the longest period on record. From January to February 1961, the state saw 14 days of below freezing temperatures in that area. The state has experienced two other 12-day cold fronts, from January to February 1978 and February 1895.

“It’s not unprecedented to have long stretches below freezing this early in the winter,” Johnson said.

She said the large scale pattern of cold temperatures this week is called a La Niña  – when temperatures in the western equatorial pacific are colder than usual.

“Generally when we see that long-range pattern, we see a colder start to winter and then it starts to moderate as we get later into winter,” Johnson said.

Johnson said that means just because this extended cold front is happening now does not mean it is what the state will see for the rest of winter.

“But it’s something we’ll continue to monitor as we go through the next several weeks,” she said.

Delaware's Division of Public Health recommends wearing a hat, gloves and layers outside, with a top layer of water resistant gear to stay warm and safe in the cold.

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