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Bundled against the chill, a man walks a dog at Lake Merritt in Oakland, Calif. on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. Many Bay Area communities saw overnight lows near or below freezing. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

On his overnight trips this week visiting encampments and responding to distressed homeless people in Contra Costa County, Doug Stewart handed out so many hand warmers he had run out by Friday morning.

"It's just a tough time of year," said Stewart, CEO of Central County Homeless Outreach, as he prepared for another night on the road during the region's cold snap -- and forecasts of snow.

On his graveyard shift Thursday night into Friday morning, Stewart responded to 31 calls for homeless assistance, while other organizations handled another 28 calls throughout the county. The calls, mostly from police and the county's 211 service for health and social service agencies, have been that high every night this week, he said.

There were no cold-related deaths or hospitalizations in Contra Costa or Alameda counties, Stewart said, but four homeless in Santa Clara County had died in the previous eight days of hypothermia-related causes, including three in the previous 48 hours, according to officials there. Sources say three people died of exposure in three separate homeless encampments, and a fourth person died in a garage.

Temperatures in San Jose dipped to 30 degrees overnight, breaking an 82-year-old record low for Dec. 6 in the South Bay city, according to the National Weather Service. Oakland also set a record low at 37 degrees, and Livermore tied its low at 26.

It will only get worse, said Mark Strudley, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service.


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In fact, snow is expected on Bay Area mountaintops Friday night and Saturday morning, he said. Snow levels will drop to 2,500 feet Friday night, lowering to 2,000 feet by Saturday morning, with mixtures of rain and snow dropping as low as 1,500 feet by then.

"The storm will bring temperatures up a little bit than what we've had, but then it will cool back down when it leaves," Strudley said.

Temperatures with the moisture will rise to 43 in San Jose and 45 in Oakland overnight, he said.

The inclement weather altered the Pearl Harbor Day ceremony scheduled for the top of Mount Diablo on Saturday to mark the refurbishment of the iconic beacon there. Attendees will now celebrate the day on the warmer Concord campus of Cal State East Bay. The beacon will still be lit.

On Sunday, the forecast for the San Francisco 49ers big 1 p.m. game against division rival Seattle at Candlestick Park is clear skies and about 50 degrees, Strudley said.

By Monday or Tuesday, temperatures should start rising, he said.

Stewart said he expects to remain busy delivering blankets and sleeping bags while temperatures stay low. Early Friday morning, he found one homeless man who receives dialysis treatments twice a week shivering uncontrollably and brought him into his truck to warm up. He gave him four blankets and sent him back out.

"Not everyone wants to go to a shelter," Stewart said.

In early November, the two county-run shelters in Concord and San Pablo freed up 15 and five beds, respectively, above their normal count, Stewart said.

The Trinity Center homeless outreach organization is operating an overnight warming shelter in downtown Walnut Creek, open from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The agency said it had 12 homeless guests Wednesday night and 19 Thursday night. The organization is searching for additional volunteers to staff the operation through the holidays.

In northern Alameda County, 25 beds were added to two existing shelters in Berkeley, and 50 beds were added to the Henry Robinson Multi-Service Center in Oakland, said Social Services spokeswoman Sylvia Soublet. Dorothy Day's Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter, which opens on rainy or cold nights, is providing additional beds.

In southern Alameda County, Abode Services created a Winter Relief program to rapidly move 15 homeless families into new quarters.

Staff writers Mark Emmons and Matt O'Brien contributed to this report. Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.

cold records
Overnight records were either broken or tied in cities across the Bay Area*:
  • San Jose 30 degrees (Old record 32 in 1931)
  • Downtown Oakland 37 (38 in 2005)
  • Livermore 26 (26 in 2009)
  • Mountain View 33 (34 in 2005)
  • San Rafael 30 (32 in 2009)
  • Napa 25 (29 in 1948)
  • Downtown San Francisco 40 (40 in 2009)
  • SFO 37 (37 in 1972)
    *Areas that have kept historic temperatures
    Source: National Weather Service