The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

January 6, 2014

Life-threatening cold overtakes area

By Amy Kent
Herald Staff Writer

CLINTON — Not since 2009 has the Gateway area seen temperatures near 20 degrees below zero, but if weather predictions hold true, the area could see record-setting lows today and Tuesday.

Weather forecasters around the area have warned residents of the hazards surrounding temperatures that could plunge to nearly 29 degrees below zero with wind chills between 40 to 45 degrees below zero, which Clinton-area weather observer Jim Blaess said could be expected Monday.

"It's gonna be a situation that you don't want to be caught somewhere by yourself. Use common sense," Blaess said. "Wind chills like that are life threatening so, if you don't have to go somewhere, then don't leave the house. It's gonna be brutal."

Blaess said the area saw its last deep freeze in 1996, when temperatures stayed below zero for 142 hours from Jan. 30, 1996 to Feb. 5, 1996. The highest day-time temperature set in that 142-hour span only reached 15 degrees below zero.

"One of things that I do remember is that people's cars wouldn't start," Blaess said. "It was so cold, that people had to push them into their garages to warm up. Some of it was the batteries but, the electronic start was so cold that they wouldn't work."

State climatologist Harry Hillaker also remembers the winter of 1996, which set the modern record for lowest day-time high at -15 degrees, but said this time around the situation is a little different.

According to Hillaker, a cold spell like what is expected today and tomorrow typically comes when there is more snow on the ground and lighter winds in the area.

"Typically when you get the lowest temperatures there are three main factors: clear skies, light winds and deep snow cover," Hillaker said. "So, this is something we haven't had in a while."

Hillaker explained that with light winds the air stratifies, keeping colder air closer to the ground and the deep snow cover prevents warmer, ground temperatures from rising above the snow.

He also said that although this type of Arctic freeze is uncommon in the area, it is not impossible.

"This is more than your garden variety cold front coming in," Hillaker said. "But, it's not unheard of, at the same time."

To prepare for and survive the frigid temperatures, Blaess and Hillaker encourage residents to stay indoors when possible, keep vehicles filled with gasoline and other important fluids, check water pipes near exterior walls and use common sense when traveling outside.

"When it gets that cold, for that long, you start to worry about things that you typically wouldn't worry about," Hillaker said. "So just be extra safe because when you start getting wind chills near 45 degrees below zero it only takes about 10 to 15 minutes for frostbite to set in."

Extended periods of temperatures below zero also present dangerous conditions for family pets and other animals so Blaess suggests bringing those outdoor pets inside for the duration of the cold front.

"I feel bad for the animals that have to go through this, so bring your pets inside and put a little food out for the squirrels and other animals that are stuck outside," Blaess said.