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Bone-chilling days will visit this week and linger

With forecasters predicting temperatures in the single digits and wind chills below zero, the Commonwealth is preparing to weather the year’s first freezing dose of winter reality.

For the next few days, the National Weather Service in Taunton predicts morning lows between 5 and 8 degrees in Boston and near-zero-degree temperatures in the western half of the state. Factoring in what could be a severe wind chill, Boston temperatures could feel more like minus 5 or minus 10, while Western Massachusetts might feel as cold as 20 below zero, National Weather Service spokesman Bill Simpson said.

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With the frigid temperatures about to hit, city officials are taking precautions to protect some of Boston’s most vulnerable citizens.

“Homeless shelters relax their rules and regulations when it gets this cold, so people have a warm place to stay,” said Nick Martin, Boston Public Health Commission spokesman.

Several shelters, including the Pine Street Inn and Woods-Mullen Shelter, said they would keep their doors open all day and night until the dangerously cold weather passes. The New England Center for Homeless Veterans will also be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and will welcome nonveterans for the duration of the cold snap, Martin said. The Pine Street Inn also plans to monitor city streets in an outreach van, searching for homeless people in need of assistance, he said.

Simpson said frostbite will be a serious concern during the cold stretch, which could last into the weekend. When the wind chill reaches 20-below, patches of exposed skin can become frostbitten in as little as 30 minutes, he said.

Martin urged all residents to dress in layers, especially the young and elderly.

‘Shelters relax their rules and regulations when it gets this cold, so people have a warm place.’

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“We just want people to be mindful of elderly folks and young people and that they’re not out in the cold too long,” he said.

The city is encouraging residents to be careful when heating their homes, especially when it comes to space heaters, said Steve MacDonald, Boston Fire Department spokesman.

“Portable heaters should never be the main source of heat for a room,” according to MacDonald. “They’re not meant to be used continuously.”

Space heaters become a serious fire hazard when they are left on for long periods of time, or left too close to potentially flammable material like drapes or blankets, he said. MacDonald warned against using stoves or ovens to heat homes, because they produce dangerous carbon monoxide gas.

For people fortunate enough to be inside most of the day, staying warm may not be a problem, but the ensuing energy bills might.

According to National Grid, the best way to reduce heating costs quickly is sealing all potential cracks where cold air can filter inside and also lowering the thermostat.

For every degree the thermostat is turned down, homeowners can save as much as 3 percent annually on their gas bill, a statement from the company said.

Todd Feathers can be reached at todd.feathers@globe.com
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