Springfield crews work to stay warm in record-breaking cold

Record-breaking low temperatures kicked off Springfield’s new year and the cold is expected to stick around for several days, putting residents and workers at greater risk for hypothermia and frost bite.

A wind chill advisory for the region took affect at 7 p.m. Tuesday and will continue until noon Wednesday. Low temperatures are expected to continue into the weekend, with highs in the teens and sub-zero lows.

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Tuesday was the coldest Jan. 2 the area has seen, beating a 120-year-old record. Temperatures dropped to 13 below zero, beating the 1898 record of 5 below.

Fresh snow and clear skies combined with a cold air mass have produced the chilling temperatures, reported Stormcenter 7 Meteorologist Kirstie Zontini. Temperatures on Tuesday reached a high of 12 and will likely hit their highest point this week — just 20 degrees — on Wednesday, Jan. 3.

Friday is set for a frigid start with temperatures around 2 below zero and wind chills dropping as low as 15 below zero. The cold will linger into the weekend with sub-zero temperatures Saturday morning and a high of just 13 degrees.

This week’s weather can cause frostbite in as little as 30 minutes, Zontini said. In the past two weeks, Springfield Regional Medical Center has treated one case of hypothermia, said Nanette Bentley, spokeswoman for Mercy Health. Three patients have also come to the emergency room with injuries from falling on ice.

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“Our emergency department is working to make sure every patient has a warm place to go when they discharge them,” Bentley said.

Wearing waterproof boots and insulated gloves, fully covering your ears and watching for early symptoms — redness, stinging or numbness of the skin — are important for fending off frostbite, Bentley said.

Dressing in layers, setting thermostats to at least 70 degrees and consuming hot foods and beverages throughout the day are some of the best ways to prevent hypothermia, according to the National Weather Service.

With Clark and Champaign County schools set to resume classes this week, many superintendents said they will monitor temperatures and consider cancellations.

If dangerous wind chills are present Thursday morning, when Tecumseh schools are scheduled to return from winter break, the district will delay or cancel school, Superintendent Norm Glismann said.

“We can’t put students at risk while waiting for the bus,” he said.

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Ted Evilsizor, an employee with the city of Springfield’s Facilities Maintenance Division, braved the bitter cold Tuesday to clear snow off sidewalks and parking areas downtown.

Evilsizor relies on lots of layers of clothing and his insulated rubber gloves to protect him in the cold, he said. The vehicles used to clear the sidewalks are heated but he still has to exit the vehicle to spread the ice melt on sidewalks and pavement.

“When you’re out and spreading the ice melt, as soon as you begin to feel cold, of course you want to get back into your vehicle or inside and warm back up,” Evilsizor said.

The city tries to make sure that workers can drive vehicles with heated, closed cabs, Springfield Service Director Chris Moore said.

“It’s cold, hard work,” Moore said. “We have men and women out dealing with water main breaks, we have people clearing sidewalks, people plowing snow.”

DETAILS: Tips, warning signs for frostbite, hypothermia

City crews are in reactive mode, Moore said, repairing water system issues caused by freezing, maintaining trucks that responded to weekend snowfalls and repairing signs that were damaged in crashes.

Until temperatures start to rise, Moore said, employees facing the elements are encouraged wear layers, take frequent breaks and seek warmth whenever needed.

“We’re not going force anybody to work past that point,” Moore said.

By the numbers:

120: Age of the record broken Tuesday for coldest Jan. 2 temperatures

-13: Tuesday morning’s record-breaking low

20: The highest temperature projected this week

-15: Wind chills expected for Friday morning

The Springfield News-Sun digs into important weather safety stories, including coverage of tornado damage in Clark County last year.

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