Snow removal operation in Montreal, Quebec, Canada [Jan. 27]
Snow removal operation in Montreal, Quebec, Canada Image Credit: AFP

NEW YORK - A "generational" Arctic blast brought dangerously cold temperatures to swaths of the northeastern United States and Canada on Saturday, with forecasters warning that frostbite can occur in just five minutes.

Atop Mount Washington in New Hampshire state, the wind-chill factor reached minus 78 degrees Celsius (minus 108 degrees Fahrenheit) overnight, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

Also read

That broke the previous low recorded there of minus 74 C, the Weather Channel said. At almost 6,300 feet (1,920 meters), Mount Washington is the highest peak in northeast America and is known for having some of the world's worst weather.

Temperatures of minus 43 C and wind gusts of over 110 miles per hour (177 kmh) combined for the historic low.

The NWS office in Caribou, Maine, said a wind chill of minus 51 C was recorded in the small town of Frenchville, just south of the border with Canada. "This is an epic, generational arctic outbreak," the office had warned in an advisory ahead of the front. It said the chills would be "something northern and eastern Maine has not seen since similar outbreaks in 1982 and 1988."

Frostbite occurs when your skin and underlying tissues freeze while being exposed to low temperatures or through direct contact with cold objects. Frostbite is most commonly caused by exposure to cold air.
Exposed skin has a higher chance of getting frostbite than covered skin, but wet clothing can also lead to frostbite.
The young and the elderly are also more susceptible to frostbite due to thinner skin on their extremities, which means they can have difficulty retaining body heat. Consuming alcohol can exacerbate risk factors since it causes the body to lose heat faster, though the consumer won't necessarily realize the cooling effect because of an artificial feeling of warmth, Dolinak said.
- - -
Skin will turn white, red, blue or gray
A tingling or aching feeling
Hardening of your skin
Pale or waxy feel and color
Blisters (yellow or blood-filled)

"Most stations are forecast to see their lowest wind chills in decades or, in some cases, the lowest ever recorded," the service added. It warned that frostbite to exposed skin can occur within five minutes in such conditions.

"The dangers of being caught unprepared without shelter from the elements and without proper winter survival gear cannot be stressed enough," the service wrote.

Chance of frostbite high

Single-digit temperatures can cause frostbite in a matter of minutes. According to the Weather Service, frostbite can occur on exposed skin in less than 10 minutes if air temperatures dip to 5 degrees or wind chills of minus-19.

The risk of frost bite grows even with low wind speeds if air temperatures fall below minus-5 degrees Fahrenheit.

The NWS said the blast brought temperatures 10 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit below average over parts of the US Northeast and the coastal Mid-Atlantic. Extreme weather warnings covering several million people were in effect across much of New England, Quebec and eastern Canada.

A wind chill factor of minus 41 C was measured at Montreal International Airport. The Hydro Quebec energy company said the polar blast had sparked record high electricity consumption late Friday and urged customers to turn down their heating by a degree or two.

In New York City, a "code blue" regulation was in effect, meaning no homeless shelter could turn anyone anyway. In New York's Central Park, the mercury dipped to minus 16 C, the NWS said.

Wind chill temperatures fell below minus 34 C in Boston, where public schools were closed Friday as a precautionary measure. Warmer air is due to move into the region late on Sunday.