PREPARING FOR ARCTIC BLAST
Communities in the Midwest look for ways to protect residents from the bitter cold brought by the polar vortex.
Winter’s sharpest bite in years moved past painful into life-threatening territory Tuesday, prompting officials throughout the Midwest to take extraordinary measures to protect the homeless and other vulnerable people from the bitter cold, including turning some city buses into mobile warming shelters in Chicago.
Temperatures plunged as low as minus 26 in North Dakota with wind chills as low as minus 62 in Minnesota. It was nearly that cold in Wisconsin and Illinois. Governors in Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan declared emergencies as the worst of the cold threatened on Wednesday.
The National Weather Service forecast for Wednesday night called for temperatures in Chicago as low as minus 28, with wind chills to minus 50. Detroit’s outlook was for Wednesday overnight lows around minus 15, with wind chills dropping to minus 40.
“These are actually a public health risk and you need to treat it appropriately and with that effort,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday. “They are life-threatening conditions and temperatures.”
A wind chill of minus 25 can freeze skin within 15 minutes, according to the National Weather Service.
At least four deaths were linked to the weather system, including a man struck and killed by a snow plow in the Chicago area, a young couple whose SUV struck another on a snowy road in northern Indiana, and a Milwaukee man found frozen to death in a garage.
Officials in large Midwestern cities including Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago and Detroit were desperately trying to get the homeless off the streets.
Minneapolis charitable groups that operate warming places and shelters expanded hours and capacity, and ambulance crews handled all outside calls as being potentially life-threatening, according to Hennepin County Emergency Management Director Eric Waage. MetroTransit said it wouldn’t remove people from buses if they were riding them simply to stay warm and weren’t being disruptive.
Emanuel said Chicago was turning five buses into makeshift warming centers moving around the city, some with nurses aboard, to encourage the homeless to come in from the cold.
“We’re bringing the warming shelters to them, so they can stay near all of their stuff and still warm up,” said Cristina Villarreal, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Family and Support Services.
Shelters, churches and city departments in Detroit worked together to help get vulnerable people out of the cold, offering the message to those who refused help that “you’re going to freeze or lose a limb,” said Terra DeFoe, a senior adviser to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.
Holiday Inn & Suites employee John Mills clears snow from the hotel’s parking lot in La Crosse, Wis., on Monday after a storm blanketed the region.