As subfreezing temperatures have finally arrived in the northeastern United States, New York state is taking a drastic step to protect the homeless from the cold.
The homeless may be forced into shelters against their will during freezing temperatures under a new executive order issued this week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Temperatures would have to be at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit for the provisions of the order to be used.
Those who refuse to go inside and who appear to be at risk for cold-related injuries will be involuntarily taken to a shelter, Cuomo's order states and cites a portion of the state's Mental Hygiene Law.
"Look, you have a federal government, a state government and a city government," Cuomo told 1010 WINS on Sunday. "We believe some things as a nation that apply to everyone. We believe some things as a state that apply to everyone in the state. And we believe as a state that we're not going to leave anyone on the streets in the cold."
"We're going to have safe, clean, decent shelters and that is a statewide mandate that I signed because I believe that's what New Yorkers believe, as a people. It doesn't matter if you live in Buffalo, or Albany or New York City, we believe nobody should be left to sleep on the streets," Cuomo added.
When AccuWeather RealFeel temperatures, which account for temperature, wind, humidity and many other factors that affect how it feels outside, drop to about minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, frostbite can occur on exposed skin within 5 to 10 minutes, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Pydynowski said.
"Cold temperatures can cause frostbite and even hypothermia to people outdoors if they have exposed skin," Pydynowski said. "Extremities such as toes, ear lobes and hands are the farthest away from the heart with the least amount of blood flow and are most susceptible to frostbite when outdoors and exposed in bitterly cold temperatures."
Temperatures fell into the lower teens in Central Park on Tuesday morning, the lowest reading there since 4 degrees Fahrenheit on Feb. 24, 2015.
As a result of the cold blast, 97 people were placed in shelters, safe havens, hospitals and other indoor locations between Monday night and Tuesday morning, according to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. More than 100 people also went to hospital emergency rooms to get out of the cold and receive medical care.
De Blasio's office, however, said the governor's order duplicates what already is being done and may not be entirely legal, the New York Times reported.
Temperatures will moderate until mid-January before the polar vortex will usher colder air into the United States. High temperatures on one or more days in New York City could stay only in the 20s.
Stormy weather is also possible next week as several storms will have the potential to bring wintry precipitation from the interior South to the Northeast.