LOWELL -- It's downright dangerous out there today.
Bitter temperatures and wind chills have enveloped the region, with some forecasters predicting close to a minus-30 wind chill Thursday night. These conditions could lead to frostbite and hypothermia within 20 to 30 minutes of exposure, officials warn.
As a result, Lowell has opened a warming shelter at the Senior Center on Broadway Street. It was open from 7 p.m. Wednesday to 7 a.m. today, and will be open again from 7 p.m. tonight to 7 a.m. Friday for anyone in need of a warm place to stay.
"We encourage people to get inside whenever possible," said Lowell Fire Chief Jeff Winward. "People need to dress in layers and cover all their skin."
The city will also be working with the Lowell Transitional Living Center on Middlesex Street to make sure people aren't stranded outside.
The UMass Lowell Weather Center is predicting a high of 8 degrees today, with a wind chill of minus-16 degrees. For tonight, the Weather Center is predicting a high of minus-2 degrees, with a windchill of minus-26 degrees.
Then on Friday, the high is expected to be 14 degrees, with a wind chill of minus-3 degrees.
"If your face is exposed, and you need to walk outside for 10 minutes when the wind chill is 15 below zero, you can be vulnerable to some frostbite," said Bill Simpson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
"Make sure you cover up your entire face and any exposed skin," he added.
Lowell City Manager Kevin Murphy said officials will monitor the weather into the weekend and if temperatures stay cold, the city will keep the Senior Center open overnight for as long as necessary.
Police, fire, and other city employees will be actively looking for anyone on city streets the next few nights to see if they need a place to keep warm.
Murphy emphasized, however, the city isn't trying to help just the homeless. Any city resident who is unable to keep their residence warm is welcome to stay at the Senior Center.
The UMass Lowell Weather Center is predicting a record low high of 8 degrees today. The record for lowest high temperature in Lowell for Dec. 28 is 13 degrees in 1933.
Friday could also break or tie its record of 14 degrees for the lowest high temperature set back on Dec. 29, 1946.
"... Please take caution when going outside and make sure to cover up any exposed skin and please do not leave animals/pets outside for more than a couple minutes and cover them up as well if you can!" the UMass Lowell Weather Center wrote on its website. "Also, check on your elderly neighbors to make sure their heating works and that they are not suffering in the cold, they are the most susceptible people to hypothermia in these conditions!"
Other communities also notified residents about staying safe as temperatures plummet outside.
The Billerica Police Department sent out an advisory on Twitter and Nextdoor about the potentially life-threatening wind chills, along with tips from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
The state fire marshal also offered some tips for preventing frozen pipes on Wednesday.
"This bitter cold weather brings the risk of frozen pipes," State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey said in a statement. "As difficult as that situation is, it is important not to make a bad situation worse; many people cause fires trying to thaw frozen pipes."
Here are the fire marshal's tips for preventing frozen pipes:
* When the weather is very cold outside, let the water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe -- even at a trickle -- helps prevent pipes from freezing because the temperature of the water running through it is above freezing.
* Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.
* Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
* If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home or business set to a temperature no lower than 55 degrees.
* Shut off outside water.
Tips for thawing frozen pipes:
* If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Locate the area of the water pipe that might be frozen. Likely places include pipes running against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.
* Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt more ice in the pipe.
* Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, or wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame devices. A blowtorch can make water in a frozen pipe boil and cause the pipe to explode. All open flames in homes present a serious fire danger, as well as a severe risk of exposure to lethal carbon monoxide.
* Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
* Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.
* Be careful using space heaters to warm up areas near pipes. Don't overload circuits. Try not to use extension cords but if you must, make sure they are rated for the appliance. Heat producing appliances need stronger extension cords than lamps.
* Remember not to leave the door of a gas oven open; it will produce large amounts of carbon monoxide.
* Be sure there are working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms on every level of the home.
Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.