The first full week of the new year started Monday and with it came the bitter cold of a winter season seemingly absent in recent years. The week also marks the return of all the Madison County school districts and some businesses going back to regular hours.
Although the snow has made a couple appearances in the county since before winter 2017-18 officially started, the current concern is with the dangerous temperatures. Much of central Ohio has seen temperature readings near the zero mark and, in some cases, a degree or two below. Once the wind chill is factored in, anyone venturing outside could be welcomed by wind chills in the negative double-digits.
An eye on schools
“When it hits a 10 below wind chill, we issue a delay,” said Tim Dettwiller, superintendent for Madison-Plains Local Schools. The district doesn’t resume classes until today, Wednesday, Jan. 3, but Dettwiller said if they had started a day earlier, there would have already been a delay.
“Our biggest risk is that we have such a large area,” he said. Madison-Plains’ school district spans nearly the entire southern half of Madison County. In some of the villages, temperatures can be a few degrees warmer, but in the more rural locations, the open land can account for extreme lows. “When weather is a concern, I am always in contact with the surrounding districts. If London is on a delay, chances are we might be since many of our bus routes overlap. The same is true with West Jefferson.”
In many of those rural areas, kids meet at bus stops early in the morning which is often when temperatures are at their lowest.
“We can’t have kids waiting on buses in wind chills like that, so we call for a delay. Depending on how long the temperatures are forecasted to stay that low is what determines the final call,” Dettwiller said. “My decision is made before 5:45 in the morning.” The call is made before the buses are sent out and once decided, several mediums are notified.
“We have a call system to reach out to households, then we notify all the local news and radio stations,” Dettwiller said. He also added that in addition to reaching out to neighboring districts and the county sheriff’s office, schools have workers in the districts that report on conditions so that information is constantly updated.
According to the National Weather Service, wind chill is the combination of cold temperatures and wind which affects the rate of heat loss from exposed skin. Frostbite and hypothermia can both occur when wind chills reach sub-zero numbers and in certain cases can set in within minutes.
“We use the HotHands Hand Warmers and we layer up,” said Matthew Doherty, Postmaster at the London Post Office. “For us, it’s important not to stay out for long periods of time.” London’s office has 13 carriers delivering mail and the typical worker in the city spends seven hours delivering the mail.
“There are so many things to remember. You want to make sure you stay hydrated, keeping yourself covered. It’s important to keep exposed skin covered. Keep your head covered, your ears, your mouth as much as you can.” He also stressed the importance of weather-specific clothing.
“If you can do it, you should wear wind or water-resistant coats, not just a heavy coat. You want to really protect yourself from those elements,” he added. “We try to carry dry socks and make sure we have quality footwear.”
Cold weather at home
For Ivan Mast, president and Plumbing Service Manager at West Jefferson Plumbing and Heating, Inc., there are two priorities when it comes to extreme cold weather: making sure customers have heat and addressing the issues of frozen or shut-off water.
“It’s pretty much chaos,” Mast said in reference to frozen temperatures over the holiday weekend. “When the weather is this cold, it becomes overwhelming to provide service but you do the best you can.” He said that one of the difficult things about cold weather is that it amplifies problems.
“All weaknesses get exposed in these conditions,” he said. “Things that could’ve been prevented if fixed earlier get worse and lead to big problems.”
The business normally has about 30 calls by the afternoon on a Monday but with the holiday and weather, it’s grown significantly.
“We’ve had well over a hundred calls,” Mast said. “There can be so many different issues, you just try to provide the customer with whatever services you can.” Calls have ranged from frozen water lines to burst pipes to furnaces breaking down due to running constantly. “Once it hits, it’s almost too late.”
He said the company is usually cautious about giving too many preventative tips because if they aren’t handled properly, it could lead to worse situations. In some cases, to avoid frozen water, homeowners and can leave their faucets at a drip; however, the best thing to do (aside from calling a professional) is to either insulate or provide heat to areas that may be exposed to frigid air.
Mast says this is another area to be cautious about so as to avoid further damage.
“Drafts are the worst thing, but you have to be careful how you heat things,” he said. For people thinking about prevention in the future, he said making sure areas are sealed and that crawl spaces are insulated can cut issues down significantly.
Reach Michael Williamson at 740-852-1616, ext. 1619.