- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009

CHICAGO (AP) — Bundle up. Forecasters say temperatures in the upper Midwest could be the coldest in years Friday as chilly Arctic air keeps spilling south from Canada.

The bone-numbing blast of arctic air that was also chilling the Northeast had claimed at least five lives and contributed to dozens of traffic accidents as vehicles slipped and slid on icy roads.

(In Washington, D.C, forecasters are calling for light snow showers on Sunday with temperatures in the low to mid 30s for Monday and Tuesday.)

Scores of schools in Michigan, Iowa, Ohio, Illinois and upstate New York canceled classes for Friday as officials feared it would be dangerous for students to walk to school or wait for buses.

“They’re waiting 30 minutes at a bus stop; there’s the fear of frostbite and hypothermia,” said Champaign Assistant Superintendent Beth Shepperd. “We also have more children walking to school without adequate outerwear.”

At 5:30 a.m. Friday it was minus 10 in Cleveland, minus 6 in Detroit and minus 11 in Chicago.

In western upstate New York, meteorologist Dave Sage said areas near Lake Erie were getting “hit pretty hard” by snow Friday morning. Some areas were getting up to 2 inches per hour.

The National Weather Service predicted the subzero temperatures would persist into the weekend. Wind chill warnings were in effect over much of five states advising the cold and strong winds could lead to hypothermia, frost bite and death.

“When you have these cold temperatures, it doesn’t take very long for skin to freeze,” National Weather Service meteorologist Rod Donavon said.

Iowa City hospitals had treated three people for cold-related injuries by midday Thursday, said University of Iowa Hospitals spokesman Tom Moore. Overnight temperatures there reached minus 24 degrees.

Thursday morning’s minus 11 reading — without wind chill — at O’Hare International Airport was the coldest daytime temperature recorded there since 1996, when it got down to minus 14.

The weather system descended from a large, dry air mass that hovered over Alaska and northern Canada for a couple of weeks before moving south. The frostiest conditions were to the north, but the cold stretched as far south as Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

In downtown Des Moines, where temperatures didn’t top zero on Thursday, the Brenton Skating Plaza closed due to cold weather for the first time since it opened two years ago.

“The reason that we did is with the wind chill factor and how quickly frostbite sets in, and with us being right on the river,” general manager Robbin McClelland said. “We want everybody to stay safe.”

In Omaha, Nebraska, garbage truck driver James Finley was wearing several layers of clothes to protect himself freezing cold that with wind chill registered minus 15 on Thursday.

“This is the worst in my 13 years,” Finley said while taking a coffee break inside his truck.

In St. Louis, Ray Redlich, assistant director of New Life Evangelistic Center, went on a “winter patrol” with others Wednesday night and found about 20 people gathered around a fire in an abandoned five-story warehouse near the Mississippi River. Tents were pitched inside.

At another spot, the team found two men warming themselves over a fire in a barrel, near where semi drivers drop off trailers.

“We find a range of people — survivalists, people along the river,” Redlich said. “One Vietnam veteran has a little house built down by the river. He’s OK.

“Others are mentally ill, and often ill-clad. They’re just out there and really need to be rescued and might die if not brought in.”

Officials say at least five people have apparently died from the cold.

In Illinois, a 37-year-old man was found dead Thursday in the snow outside his home in Normal — without a coat, hat or gloves. Preliminary tests indicated he was intoxicated.

A 50-year-old man in southeastern Michigan appeared to have frozen to death after being locked out of his duplex overnight.

Earlier in the week, a Wisconsin man froze to death after he apparently went sleepwalking outdoors in bare feet. Authorities suspect he had also been drinking before his body was found Tuesday.

In St. Paul, Minn., a 77-year-old man was found dead outside his home Tuesday morning — when it was 14 degrees below zero. Officials said the man used a walker; it wasn’t clear whether he slipped and fell.

A 70-year-old Arizona man who was apparently living in a car in St. Paul died at a hospital after he was found Wednesday morning. It was five degrees below zero.

Associated Press writers Josh Funk in Omaha, Neb., Jim Salter in St. Louis and Marco Santana in Des Moines contributed to this report. Washington Times staff writer Joe Weber also contributed to this article.

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