As cold blast moves in, state seeks to stay warm

Associated Press

January 6, 2014

LOUISVILLE (AP) — Wind chills plunged well below zero across Kentucky on Monday as a blast of arctic air forced schools to close and kept many people from venturing outside into the biting cold.

Temperatures dropped into the low single digits, and wind chills plummeted to 19 below zero at Louisville and 14 below in Lexington, Bowling Green and Lexington as Bluegrass country turned into a frozen tundra.

Wind chills were expected to dip even lower later in the day, as the bitter cold snap had officials warning people to stay inside.

“With wind chills at this level, frostbite can set in at a little more than a half hour,” said Mike Callahan with the National Weather Service in Louisville.

Forecasters said temperatures Monday would stay mostly in the single digits, with wind chills hovering well below zero.

In Lexington, an emergency shelter for men was so crowded that it had to send more than a dozen people to another shelter at a church.

About 240 men took refuge overnight at the Hope Center shelter, a near record, said Kenneth Newton, a director. Some had to sleep on mattresses on the floor, he said.

“We’re extremely packed,” Newton said. “We’re trying to make it as comfortable for everyone as best we can.”

The shelter ordered about 20 more mattresses ahead of the cold snap, along with more blankets, sheets and pillowcases, he said.

Kentuckians who ventured out endured difficulties caused by the cold.

The frigid temperatures in Louisville pushed people into shelters overnight and into any warm spot available during the day. John Tyler, a self-described homeless man, gathered with friends at McDonald’s downtown after spending Sunday night sleeping on the street. Tyler and three of his friends, who declined to give their names, said the fast-food restaurant and the Louisville Free Public Library are popular daytime spots because management at both places don’t hassle those trying to stay warm.

Tyler, dressed in a sweatshirt, two coats and a black woolen cap, said there’s no way to adequately prepare for the cold when the temperature drops to 0 degrees or the wind chill gets even colder.

“How we’re dealing with it? You can’t deal with it,” Tyler said. “There’s no way you can deal with it.”

In Shelbyville, Billy Lewis drove his wife to work, but just getting there was a challenge since their sport-utility vehicle was parked in their driveway overnight.

“The doors were frozen, and we had a flat tire this morning,” Lewis said while stopping at a convenience store.

He poured hot water around the doors to pry them open, and pumped up the flat tire.

“I’m always ready for winter,” he said. “Anything can happen when it gets this cold.”

As soon as he dropped her off, he said, he was going home to get warm.

Bobby Dunston stopped to buy a steaming cup of coffee before heading to his job cleaning horse stalls at a Shelby County farm. He was wearing an extra layer of clothing.

“It’s going to be cold,” he said.

Traffic on major roads in Louisville proved thin Monday morning, with ice-laden cars and trucks making their way across salt- and brine-strewn roads in downtown and along Interstates 64 and 65. A few braved the cold to walk their dogs or head for a bus stop, but the streets didn’t show the normal signs of heavy Monday morning traffic.

State road crews were mobilized Sunday to treat roads ahead of the wintry blast as temperatures plunged by nearly 50 degrees in some areas. Crews were continuing to spot treat roads for snow and ice Monday.

“Working in bitter cold presents obvious challenges, but our maintenance crews battle through frigid temperatures to keep roadways as clear as possible,” state Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock said.

Schools were closed across the state as many students got a one-day extension to their holiday vacations.

Winds chills on Monday were expected to plunge as low as minus-24 in Louisville, minus-22 in Lexington, minus-21 in Paducah, minus-19 in Bowling Green and minus-15 in Jackson.

“The arctic cold is just going to settle in,” Callahan said.

Light snow fell across much of the state, and officials warned of possible slick spots on roads.

Pam Spencer, a spokeswoman for Paducah city offices, said the streets were salted in preparation for a heavy snow storm that never came. Now, Spencer said, it is just a matter of functioning as best as possible.

“Yes, we’re just basically trying to stay warm,” Spencer said.

The bitter cold forced farmers to take extra precautions for their livestock.

David Nickell of Smithland, in the western part of the state, was doing just that. Nickell, an instructor at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, took extra hay into the field, moved his animals out of the wind, filled fuel cans and loaded up on batteries.

At Barkley Regional Airport in Paducah, United Airlines canceled all flights in and out of the western Kentucky airport for Monday and Tuesday because of the freezing temperatures.

Organizations including churches and the Salvation Army planned to open warming centers in some cities. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray called on residents to check on neighbors, the elderly, and bring pets inside. Lexington was opening warming stations and 24-hour emergency shelters.

Once the arctic air moves in, it was expected to stay for a day before warming up slightly heading into Tuesday, when daytime temperatures will rise into the teens, forecasters said.

“It’ll be a better form of unpleasant (Tuesday),” said weather service meteorologist Dan Spaeth in Paducah. “If we hadn’t had Monday before it, we’d think it was pretty darn unpleasant.”