Six to 10 inches of snow is forecast to start falling in the Columbus area this evening, followed by below-zero temperatures Sunday night.
The temperature will plunge to as low as 16 degrees below zero after the sun goes down Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.
Bitter cold air could result in wind chills in the 10- to 40-below-zero range from Sunday night through Tuesday night, forecasters said.
Emergency officials are preparing for the potential of power outages that could leave customers in the cold and dark.
“Right now, we are not anticipating widespread outages, but there is the potential for widely scattered outages, especially out in the county,” said Dennis Moats, Bartholomew County emergency management director.
Several local officials met Friday afternoon with emergency management and law enforcement representatives, when a telephone conference was conducted with the National Weather Service, Moats said. Another meeting will be conducted this evening to fine-tune emergency plans that incorporate the latest weather developments, he said.
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If there are widespread areas of the city or county that lose their electricity, warming stations will be opened, Moats said. But he is unsure yet what will be done if only isolated outages take place in different parts of the county.
“These people will need to ask the question: Is it worth it? Am I better off layering clothes and using lots of extra blankets staying where we are, or putting ourselves in harm’s way driving on hazardous roads to try to get to a warming station,” Moats said. “It’s a two-sided sword, and that’s a question that’s impossible for us to answer for folks. But in many cases, we think most people will be better off at home.’
Due to anticipated transportation problems, local emergency officials say they can’t even guarantee they will be able to staff a warming station, Moats said.
“Warming centers also cannot accept pets, and that creates another nightmare scenario,” Moats said. “Now, animal control will be in the loop, but there’s only so much they can do. They can’t be out retrieving pets who are likely to fare better for a longer time in the cold than humans.”
While residents who are hooked up to a municipal water source shouldn’t face problems by leaving a tiny stream of water running in a faucet, it’s a different story for many who live in the county.
“if you are on your own water pump, do you want it running endlessly, possibly burning out your pump and causing major pipe damage?” Moats asked. “Again, that’s another decision we can’t make for you.”
If possible, Moats is urging residents to have alternative source of heat available that might include a fireplace, insert or wood-burning stove.
“That would help immensely. But no matter how cold it gets, only use a source of heat approved for interior use,” Moats said.
During tonight’s meeting, local officials are expected to decide whether to deploy ambulances ahead of time to different areas of the county, as well as determining the appropriate amount of fire or police backup to be used for each ambulance run, Moats said.
“We still don’t know what the snow will be like on Sunday, and if it’s lighter than what fell (Thursday), drifting will become a bigger problem when the winds kick up Sunday night,” Moats said. “While this bitter cold has thrown more urgency into this winter event, plans are still being formulated.”
Moats is urging all residents to keep themselves updated through the media and other sources for the latest developments and announcements.
Wear several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. Use items such as thermal underwear, undershirts, track suits, sweaters, snowsuits, boots, hats, gloves and scarves. Be sure that your outer layer is tightly woven and windproof.
Wear wool, as it will keep you warmer than cotton when damp or wet.
Wear mittens over gloves; layering works for your hands as well.
Wear a hat and cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs.
Restrict infants’ outdoor exposure.
Dress children warmly and in bright colors. Set reasonable time limits on outdoor play.
Check on elderly family and neighbors. The elderly are particularly susceptible to cold-related illness.
Ensure elderly family and neighbors have adequate heat and nutritious food.
Frostbite and hypothermia
Cover exposed skin and watch for frostbite. In extreme cold, frostbite can happen in under a minute. Wind only makes the risk greater, so make sure to cover all exposed skin. The symptoms of frostbite include loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, and the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help immediately.
Watch for signs of hypothermia. These include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. If you or someone you know shows any of these symptoms, get in touch with a healthcare provider immediately. If symptoms are severe, call 911.
If you suspect that a person is suffering from hypothermia, don’t give hot drinks or hot food; raise the legs or place hot water bottles on feet; do not place the person in a hot shower or bath; do not give any alcohol or drugs; do not massage the arms or legs.
In an emergency, call a doctor, ambulance, rescue squad or local emergency room; handle the person very gently; protect the person from the cold with blankets, quilts, towels or extra clothes; ensure that the person’s head and neck are covered.
Drink non-caffeinated fluids. Dehydration occurs more quickly in cold, dry weather. Be sure to keep yourself well hydrated, especially if you are exerting yourself. Don’t drink alcohol. Alcohol can speed the onset and worsen the effects of hypothermia.
Keep moving. Your body generates its own heat when you engage in physical activity. Moving will help keep you warm.
Don’t overexert yourself. Cold weather can exacerbate underlying respiratory illness. Be careful about exerting yourself in extreme cold.
Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow. Overexertion can bring on a heart attack, a major cause of death in the winter. Be sure to stop shoveling if you have shortness of breath, heavy sweating or any kind of pain. Avoid shoveling if you are elderly or have a heart condition.
Stretch before going outside to shovel.
Take frequent breaks from shoveling, even if only for a couple of minutes.
Use a smaller shovel and make sure your shovel isn’t bent, tilting or damaged.
Keep pets indoors. Pets suffer in the cold just like humans, yet they have little means to protect themselves.
Source: Columbus Police Department