The homeless began filing into Union Station on Monday when doors opened around 6 a.m., just hours after revelers there ushered in the second-coldest New Year’s Day on record.
Frozen wanderers such as Dwayne Ferguson had nowhere else to go on a day in which early morning temperatures had plunged to 11 degrees below zero.
Many designated “warming centers,” including public libraries and community centers, were closed for the holiday.
“The downtown library is closed today and was closed all day Sunday,” said Ferguson, 58, as his cellphone charged in the station’s east wing. He hoped a friend would call with an offer of shelter.
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“Last night I stayed with someone in a tent on the West Side,” Ferguson said. “It hurts just talking about it.”
The first day of 2018 brought lower temperatures than any day of the previous year. Or the year before that, or before that.
In fact, the last time the city recorded 11 below zero at Kansas City International Airport was Jan. 6, 2014. On Feb. 3, 2011, the temperature reached 12 below.
The record low for New Year’s Day in Kansas City remains 13 below zero, recorded in 1974. Monday’s morning temperature dropped below the previous second-place low of 8 below zero reached in 1928 and 1979.
Around 5 a.m. the wind chill struck bottom at minus 25 degrees. The National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill issued wind-chill warnings and advisories for the area through Tuesday morning, after which a slight warmup is expected.
“I guess you could call it a warming,’ said meteorologist Spencer Mell. “We might climb to 18 or 19 degrees by Tuesday afternoon, but that’s still 15 to 20 degrees below normal for us.”
A smattering of power outages accompanied the sub-zero blast. After a substation near Blue Springs caught fire, KCP&L crews made repairs that restored power to about 1,800 customers who spent the morning without heat.
Several hundred residents in Independence and northeast Johnson County were momentarily without electricity early Monday, as were a reported 2,500 utility customers around St. Joseph.
“This is pretty normal,” said KCP&L spokesman Jeremy McNeive. “A plethora of things can cause an outage. Some of it is weather related. Most is just regular equipment failure.”
The weather service forecast another dangerously frigid night heading into Tuesday, with an expected low of 5 degrees below zero.
Mell predicted midweek highs in the 20s but said freezing conditions will likely persist until Saturday.
Critters rescued from the cold have animal shelters at overflow capacity.
“They’re still coming in,” said Tori Fugate of the KC Pet Project, which held its annual discount event on New Year’s Day. “All nine of our locations are super full,” and project coordinators were loaning out hundreds of pets to foster homes.
Handlers at the pet project’s main adoption center were limiting outdoor walks to five or 10 minutes, Fugate said.
Inside Union Station, a homeless man who identified himself as John, 37, counted on his fingertips the layers of clothing he wore.
“One, two, three ... six,” he said. “Four T-shirts, a hoodie and this coat.”
As downtown warmed to about 10 degrees Monday under sunny skies, John stepped onto a streetcar with a blanket and other belongings in a backpack.
He was unsure where he’d be spending the night.