'Life-threatening' wind chill closes schools, officials insist stay inside

Published: January 5 2014 | 4:58 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:40 am in

Sunday's frigid temperatures continue to plunge further into subzero territory through Monday and with predicted wind chills hitting around -50 degrees Fahrenheit for the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids area, local officials stress one thing: stay inside and keep covered.

"Stay inside if you can," said meteorologist Tom Philip of the National Weather Service in the Quad Cities. "If you don't have to go out, don't."

The National Weather Service issued a wind chill warning for the area Sunday through mid-day on Tuesday. As temperatures are predicated to be in the -20s, blustery winds will create life-threatening cold conditions Philip said could make exposed skin susceptible to frost bite within five to 10 minutes of exposure.

Philip said Monday's projected temperatures and wind chill could be on par with the date's lowest recorded temperature: -21 degrees Fahrenheit in 1910.

School closures

Schools in Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and many others throughout Eastern Iowa announced Sunday afternoon school cancellations for Monday in response to the dangerously low temperatures.

Superintendent Stephen Murley, with the Iowa City Community School District, said the safety of students heading to and from school is a huge factor in deciding whether to close school.

Murley said the temperature, wind chill, snow drifting and ice are all factors that go into determining whether to close or shorten the school day in the winter. Such low temperatures can cause problems for the diesel fuel that school buses running on.

"We have a lot of kids that walk and are standing at bus stops," Murley said. "It's really important for us to understand what the temperature will be like but also the wind chill."

Murley said administrators try to make a decision about 24 hours ahead of time so parents and community members have time to plan appropriately. Iowa City parents and students wondering about possible Tuesday closures can expect a decision to be announced around noon on Monday, he said.

Murley said Monday's predicted very low wind chill made the decision to cancel school "more straightforward" but making decisions on weather-related school closures is often difficult as it can result in frustrated parents who disagree with the final decision.

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics spokesman Tom Moore said Sunday evening emergency room physicians haven't reported attending to any frostbite cases. Moore said doctors stress keeping all areas of the body, including face and ears, covered when outside as such low wind chills can cause the "flesh to freeze in a matter of minutes."

Keeping pets safe

Like humans, pets and animals can also experience frostbite during the extreme temperatures and owners should make sure their pets are well insulated indoors, says Jan Clarke, communications director of the Cedar Valley Humane Society.

"Something like this extreme cold weather we always recommend that you keep your animals inside," Clarke stressed, adding even if the pet is typically outside." That's our biggest recommendation."

She said pets' tail, ears, and feet are all areas that are more susceptible to frostbite. If a pet needs to go outside to go to the bathroom, make sure to go out with them or keep watch on them so they can quickly go back inside once they're finished.

Clarke said if a pet must be outside, an owner should make sure their pet has a properly insulated shelter, which can include stuffing hay on the inside and outside of the shelter.  She said fresh water to keep them hydrated and plenty of food are also important.

"If they're going to be outside they're going to be burning a lot of calories to stay warm," she said.


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