News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

January 5, 2014

Arctic Blast 2014: Brace for near-record lows, threatening wind chills

TERRE HAUTE — Just hours after a snow storm finishes covering every house, building, tree, car and roadway in the area, Wabash Valley residents today may see some of the coldest temperatures in decades.

For days, people have been preparing for the arrival of an Arctic front projected to bring highs of 10 below during the day today and life threatening wind chills of 20 to 40 below zero, according to the National Weather Service.

“It’s going to be temperatures that we haven’t seen here in some time,” said Meteorologist John Hendrickson of NWS.

Hendrickson, who has been with the National Weather Service since 1979, said that in the last five years, at least, he didn’t think we’ve seen temperatures this cold.  

“We’ve had several mild winters in the last several years,” Hendrickson said. He recalled seeing these types of temperatures back in the 1980s and 1990s.

 “Sooner or later I guess we need to pay the price,” he added later.

 Meteorologists have been saying that these temperatures have not been seen in the area in 20 years.

“This could be one of the coldest air masses to affect Indiana and the Midwest since January 1994. This air is not expected to be that cold, but it will be close,” said Ball State University meteorologist David Call in a news release.

Meteorologists said that on January 18-19, 1994, the high temperature stayed below zero. On Jan. 19, 1994, actual temperatures even reached as low as -27 degrees, according to NWS.

Tribune-Star weather records show an all-time record low on Jan. 20, 1985. It was -21 degrees.

Health Impact

The predicted below zero temperatures will continue on Tuesday and these bitter cold temperatures can have a serious health impact on people and animals exposed to them.

Hypothermia or abnormally low body temperature is one of them.

“Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may be unaware it is happening and won’t be able to take protective measures,” according to the Indiana State Department of Health.

Vigo County Health Department Health Educator Christina Keller said children, the elderly, the homeless, chronically ill people, and those who are using alcohol and drugs, are among those who are most often at risk of hypothermia.

Keller said that according to the CDC, consuming alcohol can hinder the body’s heat-producing mechanisms.

Because they spend a lot of time outside, the homeless are at risk of hypothermia.

But shelters in the Wabash Valley are offering up their services.

“We’re hoping people will come in,” Bonnie Wallace, director of development at the Light House Mission.

Some people, she said, might decide to stay out in the cold as long as they can because of pride.

She said she hopes these individuals would let their pride go and take advantage of the services the shelter has to offer.

Based on experience from past extreme weather events, Wallace said they are expecting an influx of people but they are prepared for them.

Another health concern is frostbite.

According to the Indiana State Department of Health, “Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. [It] causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes.”

“Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation.”

Frostbite risk is increased among people who are not properly dressed for extremely cold temperatures and those with reduced blood circulation.

The Indiana Department of Homeland Security urged Hoosiers to limit their exposure to the extreme cold by staying indoors, because subzero temperatures and strong winds can create a “potentially dangerous situation.”

“If you much go outside, make it as brief as possible. Wear several layers of loose-fitting clothing, and cover any exposed skin with a hat, scarf, and gloves,” according to a release.

Due to the weather, many establishments closed today.

Vigo County and Terre Haute city governments are closed today. Vigo County Schools, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Ivy Tech Community College Indiana State University and  Indiana State University Early Childhood Center are also closed today.

And authorities also remind people to be mindful of their pets.

“The Indiana Board of Animal Health (BOAH) reminds pet owners to be especially sensitive to their animals’ limits when outside,” a release said.

 “Most pets cannot tolerate more than 20 minutes outside when the temperature drops below zero. Be sure to provide a sheltered place for outdoor pets and make sure they have fresh water. Use a heater for water or change the supply frequently.”

Maggie Wheeler of the Terre Haute Humane Society said that even outside dogs are potentially going to have serious side effects from being exposed to extreme cold. Like humans, animals can also be susceptible to hypothermia.

They can also freeze to death, she said.

She suggests bringing the dogs inside even if it’s just in the garage or a basement and even if it is just for the duration of the storm or record low temperatures.

Dogs (and cats) should not be outside in this extreme weather, Wheeler said, “not chained up and not having to rely on a dog house for shelter.”

They should also be given a bit more food because “they need that extra energy to keep themselves warm,” Wheeler said.

Most dog houses do not have a door, she said. If the animal really needs to stay in the dog house, there should be a door and an external heat source installed.

“Really the dog just needs to be in the [pet owner’s] house ...” Wheeler said.  

“This is serious. These animals depend on us to take care of them.”

“You don’t want to sleep outside [in extreme cold] ... and neither does your animal,” she said.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell@tribstar.com.

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