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Dozens of Iowa Schools Closed as Dangerous Cold Continues

PHOTO: A reminder of the dangers of frostbite and hypothermia, with another day of dangerous cold across Iowa. CREDIT: Liz West
PHOTO: A reminder of the dangers of frostbite and hypothermia, with another day of dangerous cold across Iowa. CREDIT: Liz West
January 6, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa - As some of the coldest weather in years continues to hold Iowa in its icy grip, a word of caution that the bitter temperatures can bring real dangers.

According to Kurt Kotenberg, a National Weather Service meteorologist, while some may shrug it off as "winter happens," this goes well beyond that.

"Basically, this is the coldest air that Iowa has seen in the past 20 years, and so kind of the 'Oh, it's Iowa. It gets cold in January. It happens all the time?' No, it doesn't. This is a pretty rare event," the weatherman cautioned.

The forecast for today calls for highs statewide below freezing and a wind chill warning is in effect. Dozens of schools have canceled classes today because of the extreme cold.

The word from emergency room physician Dr. Jeffrey Sather is that, when it gets this cold, frostbite becomes a real possibility and with prolonged exposure, the risk moves to hypothermia, which can lead to confusion, unconsciousness and even death. Sather said that's why it's vital to have a winter survival kit in your car, with a complete change of clothes, nonperishable food and a heat source.

"Some matches, lighter, a Sterno-type fuel source (should) provide just enough heat to have someone survive overnight if they would be stranded. And you should always be prepared, especially if you live in a rural area, because you never know when that could happen," he warned. "And if you're on a rural road, even a mile is too far to have to walk if the temperatures are dropping down to very cold temperatures."

According to the CDC, there are about 1,300 deaths in the U.S. each year associated with exposure to excessive cold, and two-thirds of the victims are men.

Iowa school alerts are at bit.ly/1iGGAew. U.S. hypothermia data are at 1.usa.gov/19WOsnh.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - IA