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Coping With The Cold In Upstate New York


The winter storm gripping the eastern United States has forced millions of people to scramble for heat and shelter. But people who work outside for a living often have no choice but to just endure. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: I've been to the Arctic before. And it feels a lot like this - howling wind, snow scouring your face and temperatures so cold that your hands start to freeze up immediately. But the thing is I'm not in the Arctic. I'm in upstate New York in a parking lot outside a Dunkin' Donuts.


MANN: A plow pushes drifts of snow. The guy behind the wheel, Zach Nason, is bundled up like the Michelin Man.

ZACH NASON: When it's colder, and when it's windier, that's when it's the worst. You have to dress up even extra bundled, you know? It's a hassle to work with.

MANN: For guys like Zach, the colder it gets, the more work there is. That means they spend even more time outside.


MANN: Across town in Saranac Lake, N.Y., Dan Farrell fires up his tow truck. It's so cold that road salt doesn't work very well, which means slippery highways and a ton of accidents.

DAN FARRELL: It's a tractor trailer stuck off the road.

MANN: That's his next job, the thing he has to do before lunch. Imagine wrestling a semi back onto an icy country road when it's double digits below zero. Dan says he plans for the worst.

FARRELL: More layers, warmer gloves. You always pack extra stuff just to be safe in case you get stranded or something.

MANN: This kind of work can be dangerous. New York state has issued a frostbite advisory. It's so ridiculously cold that as I walk to the office of an oil and heating company, the snow squeaks under my boots. I meet a repairman named Greg Trombley. He's warming up on his lunch break.

GREG TROMBLEY: Long johns on, Under Armour, two jackets, hat, mittens, gloves, heavy boots - they're a must.

MANN: He's been working overtime, fixing furnaces stressed by the cold. If he doesn't get there fast, houses just freeze up. This sounds like a young person's game, but Greg is 66 years old. He tells me about one recent job, a heating unit up on a roof.

TROMBLEY: Twenty below, and with the wind chill up there, it's like 70 below. It's really cold.

MANN: He says you learn to cope. But in weather like this, things just go wrong. Engines stop working. Tools break. Your fingers shut down.

Mid-morning, Manuel Zelaya is delivering furniture. He works in Manhattan and says, despite the frigid weather, he has 12 stops to make before he can knock off for the day.

MANUEL ZELAYA: We're starting late because it was so cold in the morning, our truck wasn't starting. So we had to go get a rental and everything. It's been a pretty rough morning, man.

MANN: Manuel is wearing pretty much the same uniform I see on all the people out earning a paycheck in this storm - lots and lots of layers.

ZELAYA: Warm pads and gloves and hat and three sweaters and two shirts, four pairs of socks and three pants under. That's it.

MANN: The last guy I try to talk to is a bus driver whose bus had broken down. But he waves me off. He's too cold, he says. His teeth are chattering so hard, I can see his chin quiver. Brian Mann, NPR News, New York.


Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.