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Region prepares for polar vortex

By Katie Demeria

Bitterly cold winds are expected to hit the area through Tuesday evening, and many local organizations are working to provide for those without shelter.

The National Weather Service issued a wind chill warning scheduled to last until 6 p.m. Tuesday.

According to the NWS alert, "a wind chill warning means the combination of very cold air and strong winds will create dangerously low wind chill values." That wind chill could result in frostbite or hyperthermia if precautions are not taken, the alert continued.

While temperatures will reach highs of 14 to 17 degrees Tuesday, the wind chill could be below zero, according to NWS meteorologist Bryan Jackson.

"It's more than a cold front," Jackson said. "We call it a polar vortex. It's essentially a big low-pressure system that originated in the Arctic. It pushed through Canada and rolled across the Great Lakes."

Tuesday night is expected to be very cold as well, even after the wind chill warning ends. Jackson said temperatures will be in the single digits, between 7 and 9 degrees.

Shenandoah County Public Schools, Warren County Public Schools, Frederick County Public Schools and Winchester City Public Schools will be closed Tuesday.

Local groups like the Salvation Army and the House of Hope in Front Royal are preparing for the cold temperatures and encouraging those who use their services to stay inside.

Lt. Pradeep Ramaji, commanding officer for the local Salvation Army, said the organization began giving away winter clothes such as coats, hats and scarves to those in need on Monday.

"We're trying to help accommodate them in any way we can right now," Ramaji said. "We do the same thing during Christmas, and wanted to do it again now because they are needed."

Ramaji was also able to open a temporary cold weather shelter for homeless individuals in the area. If any need to be accommodated, he said, they can turn to the Salvation Army.

"We are alert about the bad weather today, and we want everyone to stay safe," he added. "It is very dangerous to be outside."

House of Hope, a homeless shelter for men in Front Royal, is also making special arrangements for the cold weather.

Though the facility usually closes at 9 a.m. every morning, House of Hope's president Sigrid Hepp-Dax said the shelter will remain open all day to provide a place for occupants to escape the cold.

"We're very much on top of what's happening with the men and what their needs are, as well as how to meet those needs," Hepp-Dax said.

"Our policy is, when the schools are closed and the weather is bad, we stay open because we do not expect the men to go out in those conditions," she continued.

House of Hope also received several donations of winter clothes over the holidays, which will be very useful in keeping occupants warm, she added.

"Our appliances are working, the heater is working very nicely. I think we're well prepared," Hepp-Dax said.

The shelter also scheduled a house meeting Monday night in which occupants would be reminded of the best ways to keep warm and to stay indoors whenever they can to avoid the cold.

Both Hepp-Dax and Ramaji said the area is in need of services for women. As a shelter for men, House of Hope does not have the facilities needed to accommodate women and their families, and the Salvation Army can only provide temporary housing.

"The area desperately needs to provide services to women and their families that are in need," Ramaji said. "Right now other cities like Harrisonburg and Winchester have plans for women, but we do not."

In addition to the Salvation Army's temporary housing options, Hepp-Dax said various local churches are able to provide shelter for women and their families in need through available rooms at local motels.

Though no precipitation is expected in Tuesday's system, Jackson said a wintry mix could hit the area Thursday.

"It depends on how cold it gets Thursday, and the system's timing, but there is the potential for some rain, snow or sleet," he said.

According to Sandy Myers of the Virginia Department of Transportation, Tuesday's system could impact when VDOT is able to start preparing the roads for Thursday's precipitation.

"According to the information we have at present, we're not going to be able to treat the roads until Thursday," she said. "The chemicals don't work under a certain temperatures. So when it gets too cold, we can't pre-treat."

She encouraged travelers to stay off the roads whenever possible.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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