NEW YORK >> Bitter temperatures and biting winds had much of the northeastern United States bundling up for the some of the worst cold of the winter — a snap so bad it forced an ice festival in Central Park to cancel and caused an Interstate pileup that killed three.
Officials urged residents to take precautions while forecasters warned that high winds in New England could make it feel as cold as 35 degrees below zero.
"These temperatures can be life threatening — especially for seniors, infants and people with medical conditions," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Stay indoors and take care of each other, he counseled.
Police said weather was a factor in a deadly pileup in Pennsylvania that saw dozens of vehicles — tractor-trailers, box trucks, cars and SUVs — tangled together across three lanes and the snow-covered median of Interstate 78. A snow squall appears to have moved through at the time of the crash.
But even as forecasters and elected officials urged caution, the frigid temperatures couldn't keep hundreds of people from jumping into the Atlantic Ocean as part of a Jersey shore resort town's annual Polar Bear Plunge. In fact, the waters off Sea Isle City may have been unusually pleasant: organizers pegged the air temperature in the mid-20s, while it was about 37 degrees in the ocean.
Valentine's Day plans didn't seem to be stalled, either. Nic Faitos, owner of Starbright Floral Design in New York, said he's anticipating about 2,000 deliveries this weekend.
He said his business double-wraps all the flowers to protect them. "If they fall below about 25 degrees they will start to freeze. The petals will become completely wilted," he said.
The bone-chilling cold did cancel horse racing at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia and at New York's Aqueduct Racetrack. The Central Park Ice Festival, which was to feature ice-carving artists and music, was also shelved.
A wind chill advisory was in effect for New York City through noon Sunday. With the actual temperatures falling as low as 4 degrees below, the weather service said the city could see wind chills of minus-18 to minus-24. Wind gusts may reach 45 mph.
Even with the freezing temperatures, tourists cloaked in heavy layers wandered over the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan, snapping photos. Deliverymen cycled through the windy streets, their hands covered with plastic bags, and garage employees changed tires.
City department of homeless services officials were on the streets responding to reports of people in need of shelter. Friday night, 62 people were brought into shelters and 207 people came to hospitals to get out of the cold.
Though the temperatures were frigid, they weren't necessarily record-setting. The record for cold in Concord, New Hampshire, on Valentine's Day is minus-28 degrees, and Sunday's forecast is for a low of minus-10, said meteorologist Bob Marine.
Portland, Maine, got below zero degrees for the first time on Friday night, a "very unusual" late arrival for such a deep temperature dip, Marine said.
People have been spoiled by unseasonably higher temperatures "and now they have to deal with reality," Marine said.
Subzero temperatures were also expected in the Boston area, with wind chills that could make it feel 35 degrees below zero in some places. Winds could gust up to 45 mph inland and 50 mph on Cape Cod.
But procrastinators hoping to get a late restaurant reservation shouldn't count on taking advantage of cold-weather cancelations. Olivia Moravec, general manager at Craigie on Main, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said the high-end bistro was booked and there weren't any more calls to cancel than usual.
"We haven't really found so far that anyone's travel plans or plans for the evening have changed because of the weather, which is kind of blessing," Moravec said.