Lexington's homeless shelters are gearing up to handle extra guests, and city officials are warning all residents to take precautions as weather forecasters predict dangerously cold air in Central Kentucky in the next few days.
The coldest weather so far this season — and one of the coldest periods in the past 10 years — is expected, and wind chills could reach 10 degrees below zero to 20 degrees below zero at times Wednesday night, WKYT-TV chief meteorologist Chris Bailey said. The cold is expected to continue at least into Friday.
Charlie Lanter, Lexington's homeless prevention and intervention director, said the city would activate its 2014-15 winter weather plan Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. It will include liberalized admission policies at Lexington's homeless shelters, so more needy people can get out of the cold, Lanter said.
Under the plan, the Hope Center, Catholic Action Center, Arbor Youth Services MASH Drop Inn Center and the Salvation Army's shelter for unaccompanied women and women with children shift to 24-hour operations.
Daytime warming centers will be open at these locations: New Life Day Center, 224 North Martin Luther King Boulevard; Arbor Youth Outreach Center, 540 West Third Street; Senior Citizens Center, 1530 Nicholasville Road; and Dunbar Community Center, 545 North Upper Street.
Lexington enacted the same plan during November's cold weather, but the latest snap promises to be even colder.
After a touch of snow Monday night in Northern Kentucky, the real arctic front arrives Tuesday night and Wednesday, Bailey said Monday.
"We'll probably start in the teens Wednesday morning, and we should be only in the high single digits by rush hour," Bailey said. "Thursday morning, lows across the region should range from five below to five above. The wind will make it feel even colder.
"These are temperatures firmly in the danger category, when you really don't want to be outside for very long at all. It's going to be one of the coldest blasts we've had in the last 10 years."
Forecasters blame the bitter spell on a southerly dip in the high-altitude jet stream, which could funnel freezing air all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. The same phenomenon caused the November cold snap.
Ginny Ramsey, co-director of the Catholic Action Center and the Community Inn in Lexington, said both places would be open all night Wednesday to offer shelter for those who don't have it.
"We think Wednesday night will be the most brutal of all," she said. "We will go day to day after that."
Ramsey said that at least two homeless people died of exposure in Lexington last winter. Both had stayed outside rather than go to a shelter, she said.
"We don't need that anymore," Ramsey said. "We just have to find these homeless folks and convince them to come in."
On Tuesday night, the Catholic Action Center will send out its Compassionate Caravan: 25 to 30 volunteers who will visit places where homeless people often camp out. Ramsey said the volunteers would try to persuade any homeless people they find to move into one of the city shelters until the dangerously cold period is over.
The volunteers will hit the streets about 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Volunteers also will offer homeless people free rides to the Catholic Action Center, Community Inn, Salvation Army or Hope Center.
Those who decline to move indoors will be given extra coats and blankets, Ramsey said.
Workers were busy Monday at GodsNet, an arm of the Catholic Action Center, sorting through donated hats, coats, gloves and other cold weather gear in preparation for the cold snap.
A laundry service in Shelby ville has donated more than 700 blankets to the Catholic Action Center. The Christian Appalachian Project is sending 2,000 blankets, but they won't arrive in time for this week's cold spell, she said.
The action center is accepting donations of clothing, and volunteers are needed to help count and sort the items, she said. Anyone who'd like to help may drop by GodsNet, 614 East Seventh Street, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday, Ramsey said.