Cold good for business

January 22, 2019

Fort Wayne residents woke up Monday to subzero temperatures and wind chills measuring as low as minus 18 degrees before dawn : conditions that prompted calls for plumbing and heating repairs or trips to hardware stores for cold-weather supplies.

With the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, many had reason to stay at home. The scheduled day off let Allen County public school officials avoid discussions about whether to delay or cancel class. Such decisions can be influenced by multiple factors, including street and weather conditions and the potential for improvement, said Krista Stockman, spokeswoman for Fort Wayne Community Schools.

“We are very happy that we had (Monday) off anyway so we didn’t have to make that decision,” Stockman said. “On days like (Monday), it’s a really tough call.”

Sunny skies did little to improve Monday’s pre-dawn conditions. Fort Wayne International Airport recorded a high of 7 degrees, but subzero wind chills remained.

The Rescue Mission has provided overnight accommodations to about 150 men each night the past week, marketing director Natalie Trout said by email. Three women also sought shelter at the mission over the weekend and were taken to a site designated for women, she added.

“These are some of the highest numbers we’ve ever seen,” Trout said. “It’s typically higher in the winter, but we’ve had a few nights close to 170, which are a record high for us.”

AAA expects more calls for assistance today as people who stayed home Monday resume their routines, auto club spokeswoman Beth Mosher said.

“Cold weather really zaps a battery’s starting power,” she said, noting cars parked outside or vehicles with batteries several years old are particularly vulnerable.

Belle Tire, which has three locations in Fort Wayne, offers free battery testing and free air stations for another common winter problem : low tire pressure, said Ray Turner, the company’s director of retail operations.

Along with affecting gas mileage, Turner said, driving on low tires can lead to the tires deteriorating faster and increase the chances of a blowout. He recommends filling low tires as soon as possible, likening air in tires to blood in veins.

“If you take the blood out, you’ll probably not be able to run around the block very far,” Turner said.

Monday’s brutal chill is expected to thaw today.

A low-pressure system from the south will bring warmer air into the area, said Chris Roller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service of Northern Indiana. Today’s high temperatures are forecast to reach the mid-30s.

John Hartman, president of North Side Plumbing & Heating, expects the warm-up will lead to more business as frozen, cracked pipes thaw and begin leaking. The business got a few calls Monday from people without water or encountering frozen pipes, he said.

W.C. Borchelt & Sons : a heating, air conditioning, plumbing and electrical company : had about 15 calls from people who found themselves without heat by midday, service manager Brad Borchelt said.

“It’s been a little busier today,” he said Monday. The extreme cold, he added, “can be a breaking point for an older furnace, an older system.”

To avoid frozen pipes, Borchelt and Hartman recommend keeping garage doors closed and open cabinet doors to expose pipes to warmer air. Calling service technicians as soon as possible is also advised to avoid costly nightly emergency repairs, Borchelt said.

John Connolly, owner of Do it Best hardware stores in Fort Wayne with his brother Michael, said cold, snowy weather is good for business. His stores regularly see customers reaching for ice melt and space heaters.

“It’s not dead in here, that’s for sure,” Connolly said, referring to customer traffic.

Along with de-icers and propane to fuel heaters, he also sells items customers should have sought before winter.

“There are some things that people should have done last October : like insulate,” Connolly said, chuckling. “There are some slow movers.”

Grocery stores have also seen an increase in business, especially before Saturday’s storm dumped more than 4 inches of snow on the city.

“Friday was a pretty busy day because of the weather,” said Lydia Gerken, a manager at 3 Rivers Co-Op Natural Grocery and Deli on Sherman Boulevard.

Customers typically set out for the staples: milk, eggs, bread. That’s not all, though.

“They also will stock up on produce kinds of things,” Gerken said.

Scott Burson, an assistant manager at the Kroger store on East State Boulevard, said he’s seen less foot traffic at his store since business peaked last week when the storm rolled in.

“When it’s really, really cold like this people aren’t doing much shopping,” he said.

The customers that are in the store are buying the essentials, Burson said, adding some are buying stew beef for warm, winter meals.

Managers know to keep popular items, such as ice melt, in stock.

“We’re always proactive and order up those items that we need to keep on hand,” Burson said.

Despite the wintry weather, local hospitals aren’t seeing an influx of patients with illnesses or injuries related to the conditions.

There are dangers to living in a cold-weather area, however.

“I reached out to the medical director of our emergency departments,” Jessica Foor, a spokeswoman for Parkview Health, said in an email. “He said we’ve seen a slight uptick in injuries from falling on the ice.”

Geoff Thomas, a Lutheran Health Network spokesman, said he’s not seen anything out of the ordinary regarding injuries or illnesses.

Doctors including Allen County Health Commissioner Deborah McMahan said last week that the area has seen an increase in cases of respiratory synctytial virus, an illness that often affects more people : particularly children : around wintertime.

The flu is also out there, but cases aren’t overwhelming health care professionals.

Indiana is one of a handful of states experiencing moderate influenza-like illness activity, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other states, including Kentucky, have seen more cases of the illness this year, the agency reported last week.

Megan Hubartt, a spokeswoman for the Allen County Department of Health, said health care providers are not required to report influenza cases to her agency, so it’s difficult to determine how many local cases there are.

“The same old recommendations apply: Stay home if you’re sick, cover your cough, wash your hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds and disinfect common surfaces (door knobs, counters, faucets, etc),” she said in a text message.



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