After Snow, Cold Will Linger
Posted: December 6, 2013 at 5 a.m.
Most sleet and snow should be moving out of Northwest Arkansas by tonight, but temperatures across the area aren’t expected to get above freezing until the middle of next week.
Highs near 70 early this week plummeted 40 degrees Thursday as a wave of wintry weather struck the region. Highs today are expected to reach just above 20, according to the National Weather Service, before plunging to wind chills below zero tonight. Typical nightly lows this time of year are around 30.
“We’re looking at anywhere from 25 to 30 degrees below normal,” said Brad McGavock, a forecaster in the Tulsa, Okla., office. “I would guess that we’re approaching record lows if not breaking them.”
Overnight lows this weekend are forecast to be in the teens before falling once again to below zero Monday night, according to the weather service. Highs aren’t expected to reach the 30s until at least Wednesday.
In the face of such frigid cold, Northwest Arkansas officials Thursday urged residents to be cautious, especially with pets and if power is lost.
“The cold can get you quick,” said John Luther, Washington County’s emergency director. “Only travel if you have to, but go ahead and add some additional change of clothes in case you get wet, a blanket or sleeping bag in the car.”
Prolonged exposure to extreme cold can overwhelm the body’s ability to generate heat, leading to confusion, loss of balance and other symptoms, said Danna Bell, assistant director of Washington Regional Medical Center’s emergency department. More extreme exposure can cause frostbite, particularly in toes and fingers, and hypothermia.
“It can be very dangerous,” Bell said. “Body temperature can drop down sometimes before they realize how cold they’re getting.”
Infants, young children and the elderly are especially susceptible, Bell said. But she added people without power can sometimes be overzealous in their efforts to get warmth. Residents should never bring a grill indoors, for example, and should watch candles and wood stoves carefully.
“Last time when we had that big ice storm, we had more carbon monoxide poisoning than I had seen in several years,” Bell said, referring to the January 2009 storm that cut off power from more than 100,000 people. “They’re better off to be very careful with anything they improvise to cook on or heat with. Make sure it’s safe, because a lot of people just don’t think.”
The Northwest Arkansas Red Cross will keep several area shelters on standby for the next day or two while the risk of widespread power loss remains, spokesman Rick Harvey said, but as the winter weather moves out, that risk is expected to go down.
The Salvation Army plans to keep warming centers open 24/7 in both Fayetteville and Bentonville, which are able to host a combined 135 people overnight.
“At night, if the temperature’s 39 degrees or below, you can stay,” said Robert Whitmore, a Salvation Army housing manager in Fayetteville. “We’re prepared for the weekend.”
Local animal caretakers also urged people to take care of pets, including those usually kept outside and cats that might seek the warmth under cars.
“It’s too cold to be leaving dogs outside, that’s for sure,” said Jack Herring, a veterinarian with Fayetteville’s Wedington Animal Hospital. “They should be moved into a garage or some place out of the elements, especially older dogs. Keep them warm until this passes.”