Schools close as deep freeze sets in

Posted: January 7, 2014

The Winchester Star

Patrick John Ibinson is homeless and said his feet were freezing as he waited for C-CAP Headquarters to open Monday afternoon where he could go inside find warmth. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — Area temperatures with the wind chill were expected to dip well below zero Monday night and today.

Schools were closed Monday in Frederick and Clarke counties and will be closed in all three area divisions, including Winchester, today.

Temperatures for the area were forecast to drop as low as 6 degrees Monday night, according to the National Weather Service (NWS), with winds of 23 to 29 mph and gusts as high as 43 mph making it feel more like minus 13.

The historic low temperature for Jan. 6 — Monday — for the area was minus 1, recorded in 1968, according to weather monitoring website wunderground.com.

Today the forecast high is 15, with a west wind of 16 to 21 mph and gusts as high as 31 mph making it feel more like minus 14, according to the NWS.

The lowest recorded temperature for Jan. 7 was 6 degrees in 1988, according to wunderground.com.

Andy Woodcock, a meteorologist with the NWS office in Sterling, said Monday that while the area — like much of the country — is feeling the effects of a polar vortex, the low temperatures are not unheard of.

The weather monitoring station at Dulles International Airport, for example, has recorded subzero temperatures in January and February 21 times since 1981.

A polar vortex is a large circle of cold air that’s normally found in polar and arctic regions. The cold temperatures should be through the area by Wednesday, and Winchester could see a high temperature of 51 degrees on Saturday, according to Woodcock.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, steps to take to avoid danger in subzero temperatures include:

Wearing cold weather-appropriate clothing like gloves, mittens, hats, scarves and snow boots.

Dressing in several layers of loose-fitting clothing and covering areas of the face.

Staying dry.

Limiting time spent outdoors.

Paying attention to shivering since it can be the first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.

“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 Dr. Cynthia Romero, state health commissioner, in a Monday news release. “Neither of these conditions should be taken lightly, and all Virginians should take the necessary steps to lower their risk of exposure.”

Marion Schottelkorb, operations manager for the Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter (WATTS), said Monday that the facility’s 35 beds were full Sunday night and that if the same people who were there Sunday were to come back Monday that they would receive a bed again.

“It breaks my heart that we don’t have the availability of beds and shelters for the homeless in this area,” Schottelkorb said.

Luke Fredman, 58, and Earl Rinker, 55, were waiting to find a shelter or place to go outside the Congregational-Community Action Project (C-CAP) office at 112 S. Kent St. late Monday afternoon.

Fredman said that he planned to go to WATTS, while Rinker said his plan was just to try and find a warm space to spend the night.

John VanVoorhis, a monitor at the Salvation Army’s shelter at 300 Fort Collier Road in Frederick County, said Monday night that the shelter had openings for about six men and 12 women and that additional cots could be set out.

He added that the shelter hasn’t had a significant increase in people it’s served this year and that it has a low census compared to the same time period in previous years.

Neither Winchester nor Frederick and Clarke counties typically provide cold-weather shelters. The governments have provided shelters in the past if large sections of the area have lost electricity.

Officials with the localities also said Monday that the cold weather is unlikely to impact government services.

Perry Eisenach, Winchester’s public services director, said that the city’s water pipes are usually unaffected by cold weather since they’re underground.

“Some homeowners have shallow service lines that are vulnerable,” he said. “We have problems when there are water main breaks, but we keep fingers crossed that we don’t have any.”

John Powell, president of Winchester-based Powell’s Plumbing, said Monday that his company can get numerous calls for frozen and ruptured water pipes in residences when the temperature drops.

To prevent damage to water pipes, homeowners can leave cabinet doors open under their sinks; make sure their crawl space door is closed and vents are sealed; and let water trickle through pipes since it won’t freeze if it’s flowing, according to Powell.

— Contact Matt Armstrong at marmstrong@winchesterstar.com