By David Miller
For the Star-Gazette
As temperatures slowly rise this week, all of us will have vivid memories of the storm that came through Beardstown this first week in January of 2014. With wind chills expected as low as minus 50 or more before it's over, this could be one for the record books as temperatures that low have not been recorded here for forty years (*Information from AP source, Ryan Maue of Tallahassee Fla./ Meteorologist for Weather Bell*). Since it is only the first week of January and there is a lot of winter yet to go, it would be a good idea to keep a few things in mind during bouts of severe winter weather. For instance:
*In cold conditions like we are experiencing, with high winds, frost bite can occur in a very short space of time on unprotected skin. We are talking about minutes in these kinds of temperatures; so keep skin protected if you should have to go outside for any reason.
*If you have pets, they need to come inside or have a warm place to take shelter from these extreme temperatures. A doghouse is not much protection under these conditions. If you don’t want to bring pets into the house, there are other options such as a garage, shed (lined with straw or an old comforter), or boarding them at a local kennel until the danger is passed.
*Consider bringing your car battery inside if your car has to sit out in the elements. It's inconvenient, but at least the car will start. If you do this, it is a good idea to put a piece of cardboard under the battery and DON'T put it in front of a heater or anywhere that it might be exposed to an open flame or a spark!
*If you are using electric or kerosene heaters, remember the inherent dangers of these devices. Though they will provide heat, they may also cause a fire or put off dangerous carbon monoxide! Read the instructions on these devices before using them!
*If you must go out in the weather, take measures to limit your exposure to the extreme cold. Make sure if you are driving to have extra warm clothes that you can layer as well as fluids, flashlight (and batteries) etc. A candle in a tin can will give off heat in the confines of a vehicle, just make sure there is ventilation if you do this. Pack sand or cat litter in the trunk as well as a small shovel in the event you get stuck in the snow. If your car does get stuck, remember that in the car you at least have shelter from the elements and you are better off to stay in the vehicle than you are to go looking for help (and these days most people have cell phones so help comes sooner.) If you run the engine in a stranded vehicle make sure that you get out periodically and clear the tail pipe to prevent dangerous carbon monoxide from building up inside the car.
I went around town myself on Sunday recording with my camera, the fury of Mother Nature when she is testy. What was an easy walk with my dogs just two days before (at a balmy 38 degrees) was a much more arduous undertaking during a snow storm. At this point in the storm the temperature was still 12 degrees above zero. That is approximately 70 degrees warmer than the lowest temps possible in the U.S. I was walking at a brisk pace and laboring through deepening snow in thermal clothing and warm socks and boots and I was still getting cold! I would take a breath and feel the sting of the icy, snow-laden air striking my lungs. When I opened my coat to retrieve my camera for a picture, a frigid blast took my breath away and we won't even talk about taking off the gloves. I stopped doing that very early into this endeavor.
What really strikes you on a journey of this sort, is how quiet everything gets. The wind was howling, yes; but there were very few vehicles and even fewer people outside. Even the snow shovelers were giving up in the face of the still falling snow and high wind. You struggle through the drifts and find every uneven spot in the sidewalk as you go. You realize early on how much more work it all is than usual and you start to think "Wow, this was really kind of stupid"! By the time I returned to my home more than an hour later I was spent. A hot cup of coffee never tasted so good as it did that afternoon as I sat back in my recliner to write this article.
So for any of you who saw a "Crazy guy in camouflaged bibs and a dark coat" out walking around on Sunday afternoon, what can I say? It was me. For those of you asking why; of my mini odyssey I can only say this; storms of all kinds have fascinated me ever since I was a child and I can't get enough of them. They are sheer power and our insignificance in their presence is humbling. In a world where we have come to see ourselves as impervious to the whims of the planet, it's good to remember that, if the car gets stuck or the power goes out, we are not so very tough after all. So stay inside, enjoy your hot cocoa, maybe break out a DVD; but above all, be safe and Happy New Year!