Bitterly cold weather puts region in deep freeze
Residents of Gloucester and Mathews counties have encountered some of the coldest weather this week that they have seen in more than a decade.
According to the National Weather Service, Wakefield, an Arctic air mass moved farther south than normal, enveloping the area Monday afternoon, and bringing with it wind chills of five to 10 degrees below zero Tuesday morning.
Much of the U.S. was in the grip of this cold blast, with some cities in the Midwest reporting colder temperatures this week than those experienced at the South Pole.
Lows Monday and Tuesday nights dipped into the teens, causing residents to take extra precautions to prevent pipes and water pumps from freezing. Highs Tuesday only reached the lower 20s, and with wind chill no higher than the single digits in most areas, provided little relief from the cold.
Temperatures finally made it above the freezing mark Wednesday, and the current cold snap is due to be over by today, with temperatures expected in the mid 40s. The warm-up should continue this weekend, with the thermometer reaching the high 60s by Saturday, although rain is forecast.
According to NWS records, the record low temperature for Tuesday in Norfolk was 13 degrees in 1884 and the actual temperature Tuesday was 14 degrees. Richmond hit a record, registering 10 degrees Tuesday morning. The coldest temperature recorded for Jan. 7 in that city was 12 degrees in 1988.
The decision was made early Monday afternoon by public school officials in both Gloucester and Mathews to delay school openings by two hours on Tuesday morning in anticipation of the dangerously-low wind chills and the possibility of black ice on the highways.
Homeowners and schoolchildren were not the only ones impacted by the frigid temperatures. Those without shelter were forced to make arrangements to stay alive.
Local Salvation Army office social services coordinator Wallease Burnell said the GUEST (Gloucester United Emergency Shelter Team) is firmly on its feet and will be able to open a homeless shelter on Monday in the county. In the meantime, her organization has been and will be providing temporary housing to those in need.
She said that during the extreme cold conditions, when there may be more of a need, the Salvation Army reaches out to local churches and other community organizations to help with additional funding to shelter the homeless in local hotels.
“We try to do as much as we can,” Burnell said. “We definitely can’t let them stay outside.”
Cold weather can often be harder on pets, many of whom have little or no protection from the elements. Gloucester deputy animal control officer Kris James advised residents to keep pets inside as much as possible when the temperature drops. “When you’re cold enough to go inside, they probably are, too,” James said. “If you absolutely must leave them outside for a significant length of time, make sure they have a warm, solid shelter against the wind; thick bedding and plenty of non-frozen water.”
She also said during this time of year, cats like to curl up next to anything warm, including car engines. “Before you turn your engine on, check beneath the car or make a lot of noise by honking the horn or rapping the hood,” James added.
According to James, pets that go outside can pick up rock salt, ice and chemical ice melts in their foot pads. “To keep your pet’s pads from getting chapped and raw, wipe her feet with a washcloth when she comes inside,” James said. “This will also keep her from licking the salt off her feet, which could cause an inflammation of her digestive tract.”
Finally, James encouraged pet owners to be particularly gentle with the elderly and arthritic pets during the winter. “The cold can leave their joints extremely stiff and tender, and they may become more awkward than usual,” she said.
The NWS also reminds residents that exposure to the cold can cause frostbite or hypothermia and may become life-threatening, especially in infants and the elderly, who are more susceptible.
A wind chill of 20 degrees below zero will cause frostbite in just 30 minutes, according to the NWS. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities. Those who suspect they have frostbite should seek medical help immediately.
Hypothermia, a condition brought on when the body temperature drops to less than 95 degrees, can kill. According to the NWS, warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. Those with suspected hypothermia are also urged to seek medical attention immediately.
During a meeting Tuesday morning, it was decided that GUEST will open a hypothermic shelter at 7 p.m. Monday at the Gloucester service center of the Salvation Army, Hayes, according to spokesperson Kevin Sweeney.