Bracing for the big chill

Record cold temperatures are headed for the Mid Ohio Valley today through Tuesday as the mercury is expected to bottom out at 8 degrees below zero with wind chill values of minus 30 degrees overnight. The intense cold should move out of the area by Wednesday, but until then area residents are advised to stay warm and keep an eye on neighbors.

“The really cold air moves in (today) with temperatures dropping steadily throughout the day. We’re forecasting a low of minus 8 degrees in the Marietta and Parkersburg areas overnight Monday into Tuesday, which would be a record for Jan. 7,” said meteorologist Joe Merchant with the National Weather Service in Charleston, W.Va.

He said the previous record for that date was 3 degrees below zero in 1988.

“The cold air will remain Tuesday with a high of only around 10 degrees, and an overnight low of 4 degrees before the tail end of the cold snap moves out on Wednesday,” Merchant added.

The frigid temps are the result of a “polar vortex” center of extremely cold air that’s making its way across the northeastern section of the nation.

“A polar vortex usually meander this far south,” Merchant said. “And the wind chill factor coming along with it will be a big issue.”

He said winds of 13 to 22 mph, with expected gusts of up to 38 mph, will make the temperature feel as cold as 30 degrees below zero at times through 3 p.m. today.

At temperatures of 15 to 30 below, frostbite can occur within minutes on unprotected skin, and hypothermia-low body temperature-can set in.

According to a recent release from the Athens County Emergency Management Agency, frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, seek medical help immediately. Frostbite can lead to amputation.

The warning signs of hypothermia are uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. If the person’s temperature drops below 95 degrees, seek immediate medical care.

Merchant said by Wednesday the daytime temperatures are projected to moderate into the upper 20s, with overnight lows in the teens.

“Later in the week we should see highs back in the upper 30s or low 40s,” he said.

Until then staying warm will be a priority for local residents.

“Dress in layers to stay warm if you have to be outdoors, it takes less than 5 minutes to get frostbite if your skin is exposed. And be extra careful with heating devices,” said Jim Wiblin, firefighter with the Marietta Fire Department.

He said people using free-standing electric heaters should make sure they’re located at least two feet from any wall, furniture or other combustible surface. And ventilation is required with heaters using kerosene or propane, due to potential carbon monoxide poisoning.

“You can’t see or smell carbon monoxide gas,” Wiblin said. “Crack a door or window open to provide ventilation if you have to use those heaters.”

Installing a carbon monoxide alarm can help prevent CO poisoning when using fueled heating devices.

State Fire Marshal Larry Flowers said the use of candles, heating sources and makeshift cooking methods can significantly increase fire risks. Kitchen oven ranges should not be used to heat homes and generators or other fuel-powered machines should be used outside only.

Ohioans using candles should keep the flame away from combustible objects and out of children’s reach.

Flowers also said smoke alarms should be installed on every level of a home, inside and outside of sleeping areas.

State officials are also urging Ohioans to check on older adults who may have more difficulty adjusting to the extremely cold temperatures expected across the state.

The Ohio Department of Aging warns that older adults lose body heat more quickly than younger ones and are more susceptible to hypothermia, a potentially dangerous drop in body temperature that can lead to heart and respiratory system failure.

Officials encourage checking to ensure that older adults have adequate, working heating systems and whether they are using heating devices that could pose risks of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.

Those checks also should determine whether older adults have sufficient medical, food and water supplies and make sure they have access to a phone that works, even if power goes out.

Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks said if at all possible people should stay indoors during the super cold weather.

“I wouldn’t be surprised that we may issue a Level 2 emergency alert,” he said Sunday. “People shouldn’t go out unless necessary during that time. If they do go out-even for a short trip-take a cell phone to let people know where you are, and put some extra supplies in the car like blankets, food and water in case you get stranded.”

Mincks said vehicle fluids and tire pressures should be kept at recommended levels, and make sure all vehicle equipment is operational before venturing out into the cold.

He said dead batteries are also a common problem during extreme cold weather.

Anyone who needs assistance to get out of the cold can contact the sheriff’s office at (740) 376-7070.

Don’t forget about pets during the cold snap, either.

“Anyone with dogs or cats should bring their animals inside, whether inside a basement, garage or barn-any place where they’ll be sheltered from the elements,” said Steve Herron, manager of the Humane Society of the Ohio Valley shelter in Marietta.

He said if pets cannot be brought inside, loosely-packed straw can be placed in boxes or dog houses to help insulate animals from the cold.

“Put the straw in without packing it down. The animal will pack it so it provides the best warmth and insulation,” Herron said.

Water is also a primary concern for pets during freezing weather. Herron noted by law animals must have access to fresh water 24 hours a day, and during cold spells it doesn’t take long for watering bowls to freeze over.

“If pets are to be kept outdoors, electric water bowls can be purchased at most local pet and large retail stores,” he said. “The bowls can be plugged into an electrical outlet that heats the water to keep it from freezing during sub-zero weather.”