Snow, cold blanket region
Arctic air combined with wind gusts to leave much of Michigan freezing, and several inches of snow fell Sunday and Monday as well.
Yet another blast of cold air moved over the Great Lakes early Monday, dropping temperatures to single digits with wind gusts making it feel even colder, National Weather Service meteorologist Nick Schwartz said. Wind chills were low enough to prompt the service to issue a warning, and for Gov. Rick Snyder to urge people to limit travel and stay inside if possible.
In Alpena, high temperatures slid from 15 degrees at 2 a.m. Monday to 7 just before 1 p.m., according to NWS observations at Alpena County Regional Airport. Wind chills hit -11 just before 4 p.m., and are predicted to reach -24 today. By comparison, the weekend will feel balmy, with predicted highs of 30 Friday and 35 for both Saturday and Sunday.
“The jet stream pattern has been very favorable for these repetitive arctic air intrusions,” he said, adding this will change and offer a few weeks reprieve.
The NWS issued a wind chill warning, in effect until 7 p.m. today. It’s something the service does in Northeast Michigan when there’s a danger the wind chill will drop below -30 degrees, Schwartz said.
The extreme winter weather was too much for many schools. Alpena Public Schools and Rogers City Area Schools’ websites both said the districts were closed due to the extreme cold and snow. Atlanta Community Schools were closed as well, and local media reported widespread closings across northern Michigan. Many already had cancelled classes for today by Monday evening, including Alcona, Alpena, Atlanta, Hillman, Posen and Rogers City.
Alpena Postmaster Linda Kruger reminded everyone to keep snow clear from mailboxes, and to clear sidewalks and stairs for letter carriers. In a press release, she said hazardous conditions or snow plowed against mailboxes may force carriers to curtail delivery until the next day, but only after careful consideration and as a last resort.
As of Monday morning, 24-hour snowfall totals around Northeast Michigan ranged from eight-tenths of an inch in Rogers City to 7.4 in Harrisville, Schwartz said. He cited numbers from observers showing Atlanta picked up 1.4 inches as of 8 a.m. Monday, and Alpena got 2.9 inches as of 7 a.m. the same day.
“This is associated with a low-pressure system that passed well to the south of northern Michigan that brought heavier totals downstate,” he said.
MLive.com reported Owosso got 18.7 inches of snow as of 3 p.m. Monday, with totals of more than a foot in other south and Mid-Michigan cities.
Some areas in Northeast Michigan likely experienced more lake-effect snow, Schwartz said. Alpena’s total was measured at the airport, but 1.6 miles south-southwest, a volunteer with the CoCoRaHS reporting network measured 5.8 inches of snow from the same 24-hour period.
With temperatures this low, the simplest way to stay safe is to stay inside, Dr. David Dargis of Alpena Express Care and Family Practice said. For those who have no choice, he suggested they limit their exposure by breaking up outdoor time into short periods with warming breaks in between.
“You might have an hour and a half’s worth of shoveling to do, but you don’t have to do it in an hour and a half,” he said. “Go out there and do 15 minutes at a time, then go in and warm up.”
Cover all exposed skin, and dress in layers, Dargis said. Try to avoid over-exerting yourself and becoming sweaty, as sweat robs you of body heat.
Frost bite signs include pale skin that’s painful or numb, Dargis said. This numbness can be dangerous, as frostbite victims might not realize just how cold they are. He stressed not to work through the pain, but to warm up numbed hands and extremities.
“When your hands stop hurting because they’ve been cold too long, that’s a big problem,” he said.
Hypothermia, where the body’s core temperature starts to dip to unsafe levels, shows as confusion, lack of coordination, and in later stages, feeling tired and slurring of speech. Everybody’s susceptible, although the young and old are more at risk. He cautioned anyone who believes they may have signs of hypothermia to get warm right away.
Pets are vulnerable, too: local veterinarians cautioned against letting indoor animals outside for too long with such bitterly cold temperatures and wind chills. This could mean foregoing walks until warmer temperatures arrive, veterinarian Erin Shaw of Sunrise Veterinary Services said. Dogs can experience frost bite on the pads of their paws and tips of their ears, so it’s a good idea to dry their feet when they come inside.
“I always recommend letting them outside just long enough to go to the bathroom, then bring them back in,” she said.
Make sure outdoor animals have shelter with warm, dry bedding, and that their water bowls haven’t frozen over, Shaw said. Straw can sometimes work better than blankets, as long as it’s dry. She hears many concerns about the neighborhood cat that might need a place to stay, and suggests providing them a temporary shelter. A cardboard box with a door hole and a blanket should work, although wildlife could take residence instead.
Cars can be “ice boxes” in the winter, Shaw said, and pets shouldn’t be left in cars for prolonged periods.
Daniele Knight, a veterinarian with Switzer Veterinary Clinic, said dogs show they’re too cold by whining, shivering, looking anxious, slowing down or stopping completely. These are signs they need to get warm soon. For those who continue to take walks, dog jackets or sweaters can help. This is true for short-haired and smaller breeds, and especially so for the old and chronically ill.
Wind chill is a problem for animals, too: even with a fluffy coat, the wind can cut right through, Knight said.