Arctic Air Wreaks Havoc on Pipes, Sprinklers at Several Boston Buildings, Hospitals

The Prudential Center, Wang Theatre, Boston Medical Center and Brigham and Women's Hospital were among several major places in Boston impacted by the record-low temperatures on Saturday

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The Arctic air that descended on the Northeast on Saturday brought dangerously cold sub-zero temperatures and wind chills to the region, which wreaked havoc on pipes and sprinkler systems at several major places in Boston, including hospitals, theaters and shopping centers.

At the Prudential Center, cleaning crews were mopping up water Saturday night after a pipe burst, with a sign on the door reading, "Closed for emergency! Flood extractors were walked in after customers were rushed out.

"A pipe burst, so there was a ton of water gushing out. It even came into one of stores so we had to evacuate everyone," said Jessie who works inside the Pru. "It's a little crazy. I think it's going to be hard for some businesses to recover from it."

At the Boch Center, hundreds were forced to evacuate just minutes before the start of an Impractical Jokers show inside the Wang Theatre. NBC10 Boston reporter Kirsten Glavin was among those standing outside in the freezing temps, noting the venue had not apologized and was slow to even give any explanation.

Cold temperatures caused the theatre's sprinkler system to break. The sold-out shows, at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., had to be cancelled and rescheduled for April 29.

"We were on the Red Line when we got the tweet. Our hearts were broken," said a trio of friends who had plans to attend one of the shows Saturday night.

The dangerously-cold weather also impacted several Boston Hospitals where there were "Code Blacks" on Saturday, including at Boston Medical Center. The hospital said due to the severe weather, a pipe froze and burst in the emergency department, noting all patients in the affected areas were safely moved to other areas of the hospital.

The emergency department will remain closed until Tuesday, during which time ambulances will be diverted to other hospitals.

"People in need of urgent care are urged to seek medical attention at other hospitals in the area," the hospital said in a statement. "BMC is working as quickly as possible to return the Emergency Department to normal operations."

The BMC added that there has been no impact from the flooding on the hospital's inpatient floors, and their outpatient clinics will have normal operations on Monday morning.

Nearby at Brigham and Women's Hospital, there was weather-related flooding due to issues with the sprinkler system, which resulted in Brigham's emergency department going on Code Black.

The hospital said they are accepting patients while they continue to assess and address the impact of the flooding.

Temperatures got so low that authorities in Massachusetts took the unusual step of keeping the South Station transit hub open overnight Friday into Saturday so homeless people had a safe place to sleep. Several cities in the Northeast set or tied record low temperatures for the date, while the high winds brought down a tree branch on a car in western Mass. killing an infant.

“I can’t remember it being this cold, not since 2015,” said Gin Koo, 36, wrapped up in three shirts and a down jacket, as well as a hat and a hood, as he walked his Boston terrier, Bee, in Boston on Saturday morning. Even Bee, wrapped in a doggie coat, shivered. “I wouldn’t go out if I didn’t have to.”

Paul Butler, 45, who has been homeless since he was evicted in December 2021, took shelter in South Station.

“This is the coldest I ever, ever remember, and I worked the door at a bunch of clubs for 15 years,” said the former Marine.

The Arctic air reached the region just as a rapid cyclogenesis developed over Labrador and Newfoundland, churning up powerful winds, meteorologist Donald Dumont at the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine, said Friday, explaining the temperature plunge.

A cyclogenesis refers to an intensification of a cyclone or low-pressure storm system.

The Mount Washington Observatory at the peak of the Northeast’s highest mountain, famous for its extreme weather conditions, recorded an actual temperature of minus 47 (minus 44 C), tying an observatory record set in 1934 and a wind gust of 127 mph (204 kmh).

There was also a record-setting wind chill of minus 108 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 78 C) on the New Hampshire mountain's summit.

The highest peak in the Northeast is expecting extreme temperatures Friday and Saturday.

Across the rest of the region, wind chills — the combined effect of wind and cold air on exposed skin — dropped to as low as minus 45 to minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 43 to minus 45 C), the National Weather Service reported.

The current method to measure wind chill has been used since 2001.

In Southwick, Mass., on Friday the winds brought a tree branch down on a vehicle driven by a 23-year-old Winsted, Connecticut woman, according to the Hampden County District Attorney's Office. The driver was taken to the hospital with serious injuries, but the infant died, authorities said.

Boston's Pine Street Inn, the largest provider of homeless services in New England, ramped up outreach to those on the streets, doubling the number of vehicles that could transport people to shelters and opening their lobby to provide extra space.

“On a night like last night, the biggest concern is the people who have compromised judgment,” President and CEO Lyndia Downie said Saturday of people who have substance use disorder or mental illness. “On these cold nights, they are not thinking at 100% of their capacity. Those are the people we are most worried about.”

The emergency room at Massachusetts General Hospital treated several people for hypothermia overnight and a couple were admitted for frostbite.

“The reason that people unfortunately end up with severe frostbite in most cases is just because they don’t have anywhere warm and safe to go,” said Dr. Ali Raja, deputy chair of the emergency department.

Boston; Providence, Rhode Island; Hartford, Connecticut; Worcester, Massachusetts; Albany, New York; and Glens Falls, New York set or matched record low temperatures for Feb. 4, according to the National Weather Service.

The cold curtailed some traditional winter activities. Organizers of an annual ice castle attraction in North Woodstock, New Hampshire shortened the evening visitor schedule for Saturday night.

Erin Trotta of Massachusetts, who had already booked a visit still planned to go, but was taking extra steps to stay warm.

“We are prepared to take on the polar vortex ice castles. ... Snow pants, thick winter coats, hand and foot warmers, face masks, the kind where only your eyes are exposed, and good gloves and winter boots. Plan to drink some hot cocoa to keep warm."

The good news is that the cold air is expected to move out of much of the region by Sunday, when temperatures could rise to the 40s.

Saturday night: Partly cloudy to mostly clear skies, still very cold. Lows in the upper teens, wind chills around 0. Sunday: Partly sunny, and much warmer. Highs in the middle 40s. Sunday night: Mostly cloudy, not as cold. Lows in the lower and middle 30s.
NBC10 Boston/The Associated Press
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