Kentuckians are girding themselves for the deep freeze as the coldest weather in roughly a decade rolls into the state this weekend.
Temperatures are expected to start sliding Sunday night, with overnight lows Monday and Tuesday dipping below zero in many parts of the state, the National Weather Service in Louisville said.
In Lexington, Sunday night's temperature will fall near zero, with a high Monday around 5 degrees. The weather service's forecast calls for lows below zero on Monday night, with highs in the single digits on Tuesday.
Meteorologist Joe Sullivan said the weather could be the coldest Central Kentucky has experienced since Jan. 27, 2003, when it was 7 degrees below zero. Lexington's most recent sub-zero dip was on Jan. 22, 2011, when it was 2 below, Sullivan said.
Shelters open, hours extended
The bitter cold will pose serious risks for Lexington's homeless population, said Ginny Ramsey, director of the Catholic Action Center and the Community Inn. "I'm worried because it's going to be frostbite weather," Ramsey said.
On Friday afternoon, Mayor Jim Gray's office unveiled plans to use the community's 24-hour shelters, plus warming centers, to help vulnerable residents through the freeze.
Shelters: The Hope Center Emergency Shelter for Men, 360 West Loudon Avenue; the Salvation Army Emergency Shelter for Women and Children, 722 West Main Street; and the MASH Drop In Center for youths up to age 17, 536 West Third Street, will be open around the clock during the cold snap, officials said.
People seeking relief will not be required to leave during the extreme weather, the city said.
Warming centers: Residents can find temporary respite from the cold in four warming centers. The centers, and their hours of operations, are: Catholic Action Center, 400 East Fifth Street, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m, daily; Dunbar Recreation Center, 545 North Upper Street, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; New Life Day Center, 224 North Martin Luther King Boulevard, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; and the Lexington Senior Citizens Center, 1530 Nicholasville Road, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.
Bus rides: City officials said Lextran will offer free bus rides Monday and Tuesday for anyone going to the emergency shelters or the warming centers. For the location of the nearest bus stop, call Lextran at (859) 253-4636.
More information: People in need of shelters or other assistance may call 211, officials said.
Gray's office also encouraged Lexingtonians to check on neighbors and loved ones, especially the elderly and those with special needs, while the deep cold persists.
Cope with the cold
University of Kentucky doctors suggested several cold-weather precautions:
■ Dress in layers to keep warm; stay dry.
■ Stock your car with extra cold-weather clothing if you're traveling.
■ Stock your home with nonperishable foods in case of power failure
■ Plan to stay with neighbors or family members if there is a winter-weather emergency.
■ Numbness in hands and feet are signs you should go inside and warm up.
Kentucky American Water recommends several steps to keep pipes from freezing and bursting while temperatures remain around zero.
■ Wrap pipes with insulation.
■ Seal cracks or holes that can let cold air reach the pipes, and disconnect hoses from outside faucets.
■ Leaving a slow trickle flowing from indoor faucets can help keep pipes from freezing.
Avoid fires, disasters
■ If pipes do freeze, never using a blowtorch or similar device to thaw them, advises Battalion Chief Joe Best, spokesman for the Lexington fire department. The practice invites fires, Best said.
■ Best also warned against turning up the kitchen oven and opening the door as a heat source for the house.
■ Charcoal grills brought inside for warmth can be deadly. Grills can start fires, and the unvented carbon monoxide they produce can kill, Best said.
Look out for pets
While taking steps to protect your family from the cold, don't forget your pets.
"If it's too cold for you outside, it's too cold for your pets," said Madison Carey, development director for the Lexington Humane Society.
Cats and most dogs should not be left outside for long periods in sub-zero weather, Carey said.
When dogs or cats do come back inside, be sure to wipe off their paws to remove any salt or ice-melting chemicals they might have picked up. Pets can become seriously ill from licking such substances off their paws.
If you must leave a dog outside in very cold weather, Carey said, the animal should be in a dry, draft-free doghouse.
Protect your cars
Here some steps to ensure your vehicles don't let you down.
■ Low temperatures suck power from car batteries, so have them tested before the cold arrives, says Don Washbish, owner of Ferrell's Car Care Center in Lexington.
■ He also recommends checking antifreeze levels and making sure tires are properly inflated.
■ Keeping your car's fuel tank at least half full will guard against fuel-line freeze up.
■ Use a deicer to free frozen car doors, said Christopher Oakford, spokesman for American Automobile Association in Lexington. Pouring on water only makes things worse.
Cold, hard facts
On average, Lexington experiences 1.4 days of subzero temperatures per year, based on data from 1981 to 2010. Here are some other data about Lexington's history with extremely cold temperatures according to the weather service's archives at Weather.gov.
Average January temperature: 32.9 degrees, based on data from 1981 to 2010.
Average temperature for this weekend: 33 degrees.
Record low temperatures for this weekend: For Jan. 4, zero in 1959. For Jan. 5, minus-5 in 1924. For Jan. 6, minus-6 in 1942.
All-time low for Lexington: minus-21 on Jan. 24, 1963.
All-time low for Kentucky: minus-37 on Jan. 19, 1994, in Shelbyville.
Record coldest January in Lexington: 1977, when the average temperature was 17.8 degrees.
Record coldest winter in Lexington: 1978, when the average temperature was 25.5 degrees.
Record-coldest year in Lexington: 1917, when the average temperature was 52.3 degrees.
Jim Warren (859) 231-3255