News and Tribune

January 5, 2014

CHILLED TO THE BONE: Arctic air, snow sock Southern Indiana

Area schools closed in anticipation of bone-chilling temperatures

NEWS AND TRIBUNE
newsroom@newsandtribune.com

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — County officials throughout Indiana urged people to stay off the roads Sunday as plow drivers tried to clear snow before the arrival of Arctic air and snow with temperatures in Louisville on Monday predicted for one below zero and a wind chill up to minus 30.

The deep chill in the forecast had Gov. Mike Pence so concerned he put Indiana National Guard members on standby to help out in case of emergencies.

Local officials also went into action. State government offices were closed on Monday, as well as local schools.

In a news release, New Albany officials on Sunday urged residents to stay safe and warm and stated the city’s police department will have additional patrols out throughout the predicted storm.

Indiana State Police Sgt. Jerry Goodin recommended Sunday afternoon that area residents prepare to take precautions as they braced for subzero temperatures and predicted snow.

Goodin said that preparation starts at home by people informing themselves of weather and driving conditions.

He said weather reports were changing throughout the day on Sunday, and he is not sure what weather conditions to expect in the next 24 to 48 hours.

The ISP is scheduling extra troopers on duty, however, which has required the cancellation of days off and putting those officials who typically keep administrative duties to work on the roadways.

“We are concerned about the cold temperatures. Frostbite can set in real quick,” Goodin said. “We will be checking the road ways constantly, and that requires extra manpower.”

Goodin recommended staying at home, if snow storms or severely cold temperature grip Southern Indiana.

If people do have to get on the roads, though, he said there are some precautions motorists can take to stay safe.

He recommended people leave their homes with a fully charged cell phone, food, such as energy bars, water and extra clothing, in the case of an emergency or a motorist becomes stranded.

Goodin said “it may sound silly,” but people need to know of their location, especially, when driving during inclement weather.

He said when people call authorities and say they are stranded somewhere on an interstate, they will not be reached as quickly as those who can advise law enforcement of a more precise location along the interstate.

Numerous schools, school districts, colleges, cities and counties announced they would be closed Monday as the National Weather Service warned of deadly wind chills as low as 45 below zero possible through Tuesday. The General Assembly also postponed the opening day of its 2014 session Monday, and the state appellate courts, including the Indiana Supreme Court, said they would be closed.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard urged businesses to remain closed Monday, or at least wait until noon to open, saying at a news conference Sunday: “This combination of snow and cold is unlike anything we’ve seen in a long time.”

Some areas of northern Indiana had received 8 inches of snow by Sunday afternoon and the weather service said snow was falling at a rate of 1 to 2 inches an hour in some places. Totals could reach up to 14 inches.

The Indiana Department of Homeland Security reported about 20 counties in western and central Indiana were asking residents to stay off the roads because of dangerous conditions. Several other counties urged residents to use roads only for essential travel, such as work.

Indiana State Police said Interstate 70 in western Indiana was snow-covered and hazardous Sunday, with numerous crashes and slide-offs being reported, including three jackknifed tractor-trailers.

Nearly 30,000 customers of Indianapolis Power and Light were without power Sunday, while Duke Power reported 8,232 customers were without power and Northern Indiana Public Service Co. had 1,548 in the dark.

In Indianapolis, buildings in parks and at the Marion County Fairgrounds were being opened to provide shelter. Public Safety Director Troy Riggs said police were only responding to emergency runs and weren’t taking accident reports except in cases of serious injury or death.

The governor ordered nearly ordered 24 four-person National Guard teams, each with two vehicles, to be ready to rescue stranded motorists, move people to shelters and assist local emergency management services workers. State officials say more National Guard members may be added if needed.

These temperatures can be dangerous, and officials in several states are warning residents to take precautions. Here’s a look at some of the problems that arise when temperatures plummet and how to stay safe if you venture outdoors.



FROSTBITE

At temperatures of 15 to 30 below, exposed skin can get frostbitten in minutes and hypothermia can quickly set in.

“People need to protect themselves against the intense cold,” said Dr. Brian Mahoney, medical director of emergency services at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. “They have to wear a hat, they have to have face protection.”

Mahoney said mittens are better than gloves, layers of dry clothing are best, and anyone who gets wet needs to get inside.

“You can’t be wearing high-heel shoes with your toes in nylons,” he added. “That’s a great way to get frostbite.”

Hypothermia, when a person’s total body temperature gets too low, could lead to unconsciousness or cardiac arrest. Frostbite, when extremities freeze, could lead to amputations.

Homeless people who have no relief from the bitter chill are at risk, but Mahoney said he’s also treated people who simply used bad judgment, sometimes due to drinking alcohol.

The bottom line, Mahoney said, is to avoid the cold if you can — or make sure all body parts are covered up and covered up well.

You could die if you don’t respect the environment you live in,” he said.



CAR BATTERIES

Keeping vehicles in a garage is the most surefire way to ensure they will start in subzero conditions.

But for those who don’t have access to a garage, it’s important that they check the health of their vehicle’s battery before the cold arrives, said Jason Jones, who works for Best Batteries in North Kansas City, Mo. — where temperatures early Monday were forecast to reach 10 degrees below zero.

Most batteries less than three years old should be able to handle the cold, he said. Older batteries and ones that are on the verge of going dead often can’t even be jump-started once they have been exposed for an extended time to temperatures below zero.

“Some batteries you can’t get back to life,” Jones said. “Once they get to a certain point, they’re done.”



OUTDOOR EXERCISE

Stephen Regenold is a self-described fitness freak who has, he says, enjoyed winter his whole life. Now 36, Regenold runs 5 miles daily around Minneapolis’ Lake Calhoun, and bikes to work every day no matter the weather.

“I go crazy if I don’t get those endorphins and get those fitness fixes every day,” Regenold said.

Regenold’s other love is equipment, which he writes about as the “Gear Junkie.” Looking for pro tips for outdoor athletic survival? He’s got them.

Keeping the core warm is easy, he says; focus instead on extremities. He wears mittens, and on the coldest days swears by a versatile hat that can be worn to cover neck, head or both (He often wears two, plus a regular winter hat).

“To me it’s less about being tough, but more about embracing where I love and not letting the weather man and the media scare me from what I love to do,” Regenold said.



SCHOOL BUSES

Extreme temperatures also can cause plenty of other problems that can strand drivers — even those who drive school buses.

In St. Louis County, one school district canceled classes Friday after 20 of its buses wouldn’t start, and 85 others didn’t have working air brakes because of temperatures that hovered around zero at 6 a.m.

Crews will be working over the weekend to make sure the company’s buses are in good mechanical condition, said Stephanie Creech, a spokeswoman for Cincinnati-based First Student Inc., which operates buses in the Rockwood School District. But there’s no guarantee that they will be able to operate when the mercury drops below zero.

“Monday, it would appear there could be safety issues,” Creech said. “Delays could be severe enough that students might not be picked up in a timely manner, and if so we will make a recommendation to the school systems that we don’t operate the buses.”

News and Tribune reporter Gary Popp contributed to this report. Also, Associated Press writers Amy Floriti, Bill Draper in Kansas City, Mo., and Jim Salter in St. Louis contributed to this report.