By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Bitter cold and a bitterly cold wind chill to go with it are the greatest concerns today as a polar vortex brings single-digit temperatures to the region.
This morning’s temperature could be a low as minus 7 degrees by 8 a.m. with wind chills as low as minus 25 degrees, according to the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va. One to three inches of snow is expected, with as much as six inches on some westward slopes, but the real hazard today is the cold.
“It’s going to be brutally cold as far as wind chill, and people need to take action against that,” said meteorologist David Wert.
In the Midwest, many people would consider such low temperatures a normal part of winter, but residents of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia do not see such low readings as often, Wert said. Routine tasks such as driving to a local station to get gasoline suddenly become more hazardous.
“The problem is that people are not accustomed to getting this cold,” he stated. “You go out in your car to drive to a gas station, and you put a little T-shirt on thinking you’re only going to be a couple of minutes. Oops. There goes your engine. What do you do now?”
Wert advised motorists to tell family and friends where they are going and when they expect to arrive or return. An incident such as becoming stuck becomes dangerous in single-digit temperatures.
“Ten hours later, nobody’s looking for you and you’re freezing to death. Bundle up, and make sure people know where you are and where you expect to be,” he added.
Residents should also consider bringing outdoor pets indoors. Other precautions include allowing water to flow from faucets so pipes will not freeze, Wert said.
State road crews worked Monday to get local highways into the best condition possible before the single-digit temperatures arrived.
“We’re going to try to do everything we can (Monday) to get the roads in good shape because as we’ve previously noted, once it’s 15 (degrees) or so, salt’s no longer as effective,” said Tom Camden, supervisor for District 10 of the state Department of Highways.
Camden said crews were working to get roads into a dry condition, but this was difficult without sunshine.
“They’re trying to do everything they can today before the temperatures drop too much,” he stated. “We could use some stone in areas where it’s slick. The best advice is to stay home if you can.”
Area health officials offered advice for avoiding frostbite and hypothermia. The Virginia Department of Health urged people to take extra precautions.
“When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced, causing cold-weather health problems such as frostbite and hypothermia,” said State Health Commissioner Cynthia Romero, MD, FAAFP. “Neither of these conditions should be taken lightly, and all Virginians should take the necessary steps to lower their risk of exposure.”
The VDH offered several tips:
• Wear cold weather clothing like gloves or mittens, hats, scarves and snow boots. Dress in several layers of loose-fitting clothing and cover your face and mouth if possible.
• Be aware of the wind chill factor. Wind can cause loss of body heat.
• Stay dry, and remove any wet clothing immediately.
• Limit your time outdoors.
• Do not ignore shivering. It is important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.
Local shelters such as the Bluefield Union Mission were ready to provide assistance. The mission had blankets, warm-up kits, and other items ready for people in need of warmth.
“As of now, we’re sheltering eight people: a family of six and a family of two,” said Executive Director Craig Hammond.
Mercer County 911 contacts the Bluefield Salvation Army if people need shelter from the cold, said Capt. Jerry Lester.
The Princeton Rescue Squad along Stafford Drive also opened a shelter Monday evening.