How low will it go?

Zoe Greszler • Jan 30, 2019 at 4:17 PM

Forecasters are calling for dangerously cold weather during the middle of this week.

The Arctic chill begins Tuesday and continues through Thursday. On Wednesday, the temperature won’t rise above zero and could dip as low as minus 13 — without the wind chill.

With such bitter sub-zero temperatures, frostbite and hypothermia can become real concerns. They also raise the likelihood of school cancellations, car trouble and frozen pipes.


School cancelations?

With weather conditions projected to be so dangerous, many are expecting school cancellations on Wednesday and possibly Thursday.

Norwalk City Schools Superintendent George Fisk said the district most likely will wait until the night — at the earliest — before making a decision. A morning-of decision also is possible, he said.

“I personally take it case by case,” Fisk said. “I like it when I can make it the night before instead of springing it on our parents the same morning. With this week coming up, it my be a little easier because it looks like there’s not going to be much discrepancy in the forecast. But, obviously, the safest way to do it is to wait until that morning.”

Fisk said the district becomes “really concerned” when temperatures or wind chill factors reach minus 15, adding he and the other superintendents in Huron County refer to charts released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as a general rule of thumb on safety. 

“When it gets to be minus 15, for a walk to school, that’s when it gets too dangerous,” he said.


Frostbite and hypothermia

Frostbite begins when the skin temperature falls between 4 and 14 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the NOAA. When the mercury dips between minus 10 and minus 15, frostbit can set in in as little as 30 minutes. When a wind chill added, frostbite can take as little as 10 minutes.

Frostbite occurs when ice crystals form in the tissues and small blood vessels.

“The rate of heat loss determines the rate of freezing, which is accelerated by wind, wetness, extreme cold and poor blood circulation,” the NOAA reported. “Parts of the body susceptible to freezing are those with surfaces large in relation to their volume, such as toes, fingers, ears, nose, chin and cheeks.”

The first indication that something is wrong is a painful tingling, which can be excruciating. However, if freezing occurs gradually or if the freezing is localized to a small enough area at first, the effects may be painless.

“Wetness can add to the problem as water and wind soften the tissues and accelerate heat loss,” NOAA said.

Hypothermia has a much more rapid progression. If someone is exposed to water in extremely cold condition, death can take place in a matter of minutes. The NOAA research revealed exhaustion and loss of consciousness can occur with in 15 minutes when water is below 31 degrees, or if someone in damp clothing is exposed to frigid conditions. Their expected time of survival is a mere 15 to 45 minutes.

The national service center said injuries from the cold can be prevented by “maintaining natural warmth through the use of proper footgear and adequate, dry clothing, by avoiding cramped positions and constricting clothing and by active exercise of the hands, legs and feet.”

it also recommended proper hydration, which prevent freezing, and avoiding caffeine, alcohol and cigarette smoking, all which can accelerate freezing times.


Too cold to drive?

Huron County Engineer Lee Tansey said another issue comes with extremely low temperstures — the roads may remain icy, despite salting.

“When the weather is that cold, the salt is not going to do much of anything,” Tansey said. “By about below 10 degrees, it really doesn’t work anymore. If the sun’s on it, the pavement warms up pretty quick, so during the day it can be OK in those temperatures (about 10 degrees). At night, it’s different. We’ll also mix in stone grit that allows for traction.”

He said the county crews will mix the salt and grit this week and do their best to keep the roads salted and as safe as possible. Yet, Tansey said the department has another major concern this week.

“Our biggest battle this week, though, is going to be the wind,” he said. “With the wind blowing, you’ll have the blowing snow covering the roads, so we’ll have our trucks out there (plowing) the snow away. But it looks like the wind will keep blowing. That will probably be our biggest battle I think.”

Tansey said drivers can take precautions by following the same tips the department has been offering year round — “slow down and be careful.”

“It may not be snowing and you could be driving on dry pavement, but especially in between houses or with open field areas, that’s where the snow drifts across he road. You’ll need to be careful with that,” he said.

The low temperatures also could stress car batteries, raising the possibility that vehicles won’t start.


Why the bitter cold?

The polar vortex is expected to become displaced from the Arctic Circle and plunge down to near the upper Great Lakes. That will occur in the wake of the winter storm that may lay a swath of disruptive snow from the Midwest, Chicago included, to a part of the Northeast early next week.

“Temperatures can be held 20 to 40 degrees below normal Fahrenheit across most of the Midwest around the middle of next week,” according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson.

In Norwalk, the coldest Jan. 30 on record happened in 1906 when temperature dipped to minus 17. That record could be in jeopardy on Wednesday, when the temperature is projected to drop to minus 13.

Record-low temperatures also could occur Tuesday and Thursday. The current records for Jan. 29 and 31 are minus 14 in 1915 and minus 10 in 1899, respectively. At this point, forecasters are calling for a low of minus 8 on Tuesday and minus 4 on Thursday.

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