Meteorologist: Very intense, brutally cold

January 30, 2019

On Tuesday, meteorologists forecast temperatures so low that some local superintendents told their students and staff to stay home Wednesday and Thursday.

AccuWeather senior meteorologist Carl Erickson said that temperatures will fall into the single digits, but winds will make the air feel like 25 or 35 degrees below zero.

“There will be a very intense, brutally cold air mass there for the next 24 to 48 hours,” Erickson said Tuesday night. “In this kind of air mass, frostbite can hit in a matter of minutes.”

By Tuesday afternoon, Conemaugh Township and Windber school districts had already canceled classes for Wednesday and Thursday. North Star, Rockwood, Shanksville-Stonycreek, Meyersdale, Turkeyfoot Valley, Salisbury-Elk Lick, Berlin, Shade-Central City and Somerset school districts canceled Wednesday classes as well.

Windber Superintendent Joe Kimmel said the decision to cancel classes was a “no-brainer.”

“We don’t want them out in the cold, and also, with the buses, it’s possible to be stranded in extreme temperatures,” he said. “We have days built in our schedule, plus we have days at the end of the year when transportation is safe and optimal — in conditions where there’s not a possibility of harm to students.”

In extremely cold temperatures, there’s also a possibility that the buses won’t start or might shut down while in transit.

“That’s a case we don’t want to get into,” Kimmel said. “Basically, the most important thing is the safety aspect.”

Erickson also said that travel will be unsafe at times Wednesday and Thursday as heavy winds push snow across the roads in isolated areas.

“Snow squalls can come quickly and put a quick coating of snow on roadways (Wednesday),” he said. It will be followed by another inch of fresh snow Friday, Erickson said.

During harsh subzero temperatures, when people are heating their homes using all methods available, it is also important to be safe, said Windber Fire Department Chief Bob Haddad.

“Every year, no matter how much the temperature goes down, if it’s generally cold, a lot of people in need of oil or saving electricity choose to use alternate means of heating, such as space heaters, opening their oven or using burners on the stove,” he said.

Sometimes people forget there’s something in the stove or something blocking their space heater, and their house catches fire. Some also forget to use proper ventilation and are overcome by carbon monoxide.

“And space heaters, some older styles don’t have a fall prevention switch where they turn off when they fall over. They fall over when kids or animals hit them and they start the house on fire,” Haddad said.

“And a little crack in the window can allow some air to circulate. From the amount of heat being generated, it doesn’t change the heat that much, but it does allow air to circulate.”

Some people may seek shelter in their cars as well. Haddad said those people must make sure they have proper ventilation and don’t run their car in a garage.

“Folks utilizing their vehicle to stay warm can run it, which is OK as long as there’s appropriate ventilation,” he said. “And some don’t know that, if a snow plow pushes snow up against the rear of their vehicle, it could block the exhaust and the carbon monoxide then goes into the vehicle.”

“Just be cognizant of what you’re doing.”

Veterinarian Bill Croushore had tips for farmers and pet owners during the subzero temperatures.

Croushore said large huskies and malamute dogs can handle the cold much better than other dogs, like chihuahuas, which could die in the cold after 20 minutes.

“It depends on their fur,” he said. “A house dog let out to do its business probably shouldn’t be out there long. If they’ve got a shelter and some warm bedding, a lot of them will be fine. If they’re small dogs and don’t have thick fur, they could absolutely freeze.”

Barn cats, cattle, horses, sheep and goats are usually fine in these temperatures as well and will huddle together. Croushore said the biggest thing to watch is freezing water sources.

“When their water source becomes frozen, that’s a problem,” he said, because they won’t be able to hydrate.

“Another thing we see every year is baby calves get frostbite at the tips of their ears. That’s actually pretty common. The other dilemma is that, if it gets in the barn, it gets pretty stuffy and they can develop respiratory disease,” he said. “Farmers usually use their best discretion.”

“We get through this every year, but it’s still not pleasant.”

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