By the TimesLedger staff
Until a recent respite, winter was the topic around the borough in offices, apartment foyers, stores and school corridors. Simply put, it was cold, bitterly cold, with a couple of snowstorms thrown into the mix.
After a monthlong series of often Artic readings, temperatures climbed to the 30s Monday and by Wednesday, the weather was relatively balmy with a high of 42 forecast by the Weather Channel.
Such temperatures felt like a heat wave to residents of Queens, which along with the rest of the city suffered through the eighth coldest January on record, according to the National Weather Service. The average temperature for the month was 24.8, the service reported.
Across the borough, the cold and snow had an impact on airports and trains, emergency rooms and retailers. The effect on crime and traffic accidents, though suspected, was less apparent.
At Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, doctors said icy sidewalks this winter had led to injuries, especially among the elderly, from slipping and falling.
“We see very commonly people coming out of their homes and fracturing their wrists and hips,” said Dr. Thomas Kwiatkowski, chairman of the Emergency Department.
Unlike his colleagues at other hospitals in the borough, Kwiatkowski said LIJ did not see a lot of cases of frostbite, although LIJ had its share of patients whose asthma has worsened in the cold weather.
As with most winters, the emergency room at LIJ also saw many victims of car accidents, especially rear-endings.
“The injuries are minor but the accidents are fairly common,” Kwiatkowski said, explaining that the widespread use of seat belts and air bags has made his job easier.
Nevertheless, there have been fewer accidents in Queens this winter than last, according to the city’s Department of Transportation. From Nov. 1 to Jan. 31, the DOT recorded 3,886 accidents, an 18 percent decrease from the same period a year ago. A DOT spokesman said there were too many variables involved to explain the drop.
Other forms of transportation also had to cope with the snow and ice, but spokesmen for the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Port Authority said they followed pre-established plans. According to the Port Authority, 2.5 million metric tons of road salt were imported into the city this winter, a 170 percent increase from last year.
“We are always prepared for emergencies.” a spokesman for the Port Authority said. He said that although there had been delays and cancellations at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports, travelers had adjusted well.
“The traveling public has been incredibly smart,” the spokesman said. “We got a lot of practice this winter. Folks know the routine by now.”
As for the subways, a spokesman for New York City Transit said when January’s snowstorms were predicted, “we put our winter plan in effect. We run the deicing trains all night long and store the trains in an underground facility.”
When storms hit the borough, some delays occurred on the Long Island Rail Road, with powdery snow getting into the motors of some older trains and causing problems.
“When we have storms forecast, we monitor them very closely and we take a number of steps, depending on the type of storms,” a LIRR spokesman said.
Police said the cold weather may have also have discouraged crime, but it was not possible to prove so statistically.
“It keeps people inside more, so it probably has an effect by decreasing crime,” a spokesman said. But he stopped short of giving the cold weather any direct credit for the city’s continuing drop in crime.
“Crime is down because of better enforcement, not the cold,” the spokesman said.
And while cold weather tends to keep people indoors, not out shopping, the Burlington Coat Factory in Glen Oaks reported a brisk business selling winter jackets.
On Monday, a Bellerose man was one of the store’s customers. Although the temperature had risen into the 30s that day, he said he was not fooled.
“You never know, the winter is not over yet,” he said.
That comment turned out to be somewhat prophetic. The Weather Channel was predicting that while it would remain warm Friday, there was an 80 percent chance of rain and snow.