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Pittsburgh opens warming centers, encourages people to stay indoors with frigid temps on the way

Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey joined the city's public safety and works divisions Thursday to detail plans to treat roads and keep people warm as temperatures are expected to drop dramatically.
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey joined the city's public safety and works divisions Thursday to detail plans to treat roads and keep people warm as temperatures are expected to drop dramatically.

Winter has arrived in Pittsburgh, and it’s packing a one-two punch of ice and snow as temperatures are expected to plummet 20 degrees over the course of a few hours early Friday morning. An arctic cold front will create the potential for a flash freeze before one to three inches of snow falls.

The National Weather Service has declared a wind chill warning from 6 a.m. Friday through noon Saturday for parts of western Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh. Winds could reach 50 miles per hour. The agency has also declared a winter weather advisory from 1 a.m. through 1 p.m. Friday.

City officials gathered at Pittsburgh’s Public Works 3rd Division in Hazelwood Thursday to discuss plans to treat the roads during the storm. Because the storm is expected to drop freezing rain before the snow, the Department of Public Works can’t pre-treat the roads, according to Director Chris Hornstein.

“We’re anticipating that the roads could be potentially treacherous tomorrow,” he said. “So we're asking everybody to stay home.”

Hornstein said crews will work through the day Friday and overnight into Saturday to treat the roads. He estimated that 60 trucks would work Friday and Saturday overnight shifts, and that 75 trucks would be out during the day time. Crews may preemptively barricade certain steep streets from vehicles until crews have treated them, Hornstein said, and the department will focus on priority routes to hospitals and other critical needs first.

Additionally, Allegheny County officials announced 33 salt trucks with plows will begin treating county-owned roads at 3 a.m. Friday, working nonstop until the weather clears.

Pittsburgh’s city garbage collection will be canceled Friday with a makeup day planned for Monday.

Officials repeatedly urged residents to avoid going out Friday whenever possible to limit the number of vehicles traversing icy roads.

“[If] you don’t have to be out, please don’t go out,” cautioned Mayor Ed Gainey at the press conference. “We know about Pittsburgh winters. We know about Pittsburgh storms. This isn’t our first rodeo.”

The city will activate five warming centers on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The following Healthy Active Living Community Centers will be open during the low temperatures:

  • Brighton Heights (3515 McClure Ave, 15212)
  • Greenfield (745 Greenfield Ave, 15217)
  • Homewood (7321 Frankstown Ave, 15208)
  • Sheraden (720 Sherwood Avenue, 15204)
  • South Side Market House (12 & Bingham Streets, 15203)

Outside of the warming center hours, city leaders are encouraging those without shelter to reach out to Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services by calling 412-350-5701. Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Lee Schmidt said the city will be working to connect those living on the street to resources over the next few days.

“The outreach workers will get people placed where they need to go, where they’re comfortable,” he said. Schmidt said some winter shelters plan to extend their hours of operation to allow people to stay for a longer period.

When asked whether there was enough space to meet anticipated demand, Schmidt said the city is working with the county to ensure people are not turned away.

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“We have confirmed that there should be enough space for everyone and just in different neighborhoods, in different locations,” Schmidt said.

The cold air will linger across the region through Monday before temperatures gradually increase next week, according to forecasts.

Gainey called on Pittsburghers to check on their neighbors this weekend, especially the elderly or disabled who may be unable to shovel and salt their walkways.

“A lot of times we take it for granted. But they can't get out. They can't do the sidewalks. Help them out,” Gainey said. “Let’s all be good neighbors this weekend and we can get through this storm together.”

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.