Temperatures on Tuesday morning dipped below zero for the first time since 2014.
The morning began with temperatures around 5 below zero in St. Clair County. They climbed up to zero by 8:30 a.m., and 11 dgrees by 11:30 a.m. The high for the day was expected to soar to 21 degrees.
The last time temperatures were in the negative column was four years ago in January 2014, according to the National Weather Service
Quincy and Columbia, Illinois, two of the three locations where the weather service tracks temperature data, met or broke records for cold weather on Tuesday’s date. Quincy, which saw temperatures at 12 below zero, broke the previous record set in 1979 of 11 below zero. Columbia tied with its previous record of 5 below zero set in 2001.
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St. Louis, at a balmy 1 below zero, did not break its 1979 record set on this date of nine below zero.
Most schools that were scheduled to reopen after the Christmas break were closed in the metro-east.
A wind chill advisory was issued in St. Clair County on Tuesday, warning of “bitterly cold wind chills” as low as 20 below zero. According to the warning, frostbite can occur to exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes in temperatures this low.
Besides frostbite, the freezing temperatures present other dangers. Here are a few of them and how you can protect yourself.
Fire danger goes up
In extremely low temperatures, furnaces, heaters and fire places can become more of a danger than an aid.
Belleville Fire Chief Tom Pour said they've already seen a few fires caused from heating devices that were not maintained correctly.
On Dec. 28, a furnace that had not been cleaned or maintained in years caused an attic fire over the weekend as it overworked in order to compensate for the cold. The water in the fire hydrant was also frozen, causes additional challenge for firefighters.
Later that day, an improperly installed wood burner caused another fire that sent plumes of smoke billowing from a Belleville home. As it turns out, the house had two chimneys in the attic but only one that opened onto the roof. The owner had accidentally hooked the burner up to a chimney that did not go anywhere, Pour said.
“He should have had it checked, he didn’t even have that chimney,” Pour said. “That could have been tragic, but luckily neighbors saw smoke coming from them.”
No one was injured in either of the recent fires.
Pour said they haven’t seen any space heater related fires recently, but warns that they can cause problems as well.
“Use the phrase, ‘give them space.’ If you put the heater too close to a bed, it’s easy to kick a pillow or bedding in front of it. Many fires are created that way because they are too close to a curtain,” Pour said.
He also recommended making sure a heater can be used indoors, as some of them are meant for outdoor use only.
Pour added the cold temperatures put firefighters in danger as well. He said if a firefighter gets wet, they can be vulnerable to hypothermia. In order to combat this, they keep a second set of dry, warm gear nearby.
Hypothermia and frostbite
Firefighters are not the only ones susceptible to cold-related injuries. Hypothermia and frostbite present dangers to anyone exposed to the cold for even just 30 minutes without proper protections.
On Tuesday morning, about 20 people took shelter from the weather in Continuum of Life Center in East St. Louis, playing bingo and talking.
Continuum vice president Tenille Traylor said far more people have been staying at the center than last year due to the freezing temperatures. Inside, the center offers hot showers, resources to job search and fellowship with others.
“It’s very important for them to have somewhere to go because they don't always have family,” Traylor said. “Our doors are always open.”
Debbie Moore, secretary for Caseyville Township, said they haven’t seen anyone stay in the warming center at 10001 Bunkam road yet, but they’re ready if someone needs the shelter.
“It’s just so horrible out. It's dangerous out there,” she said. “Animals or people should not be outside for any length of time for any reason.”
She said no one has utilized the warming shelter yet because most people have power and heating in their homes, unlike a few years ago when a massive ice storm in the area forced many to seek alternative shelter as they lost power.
“We are ready and available if something like that happened again, and we're happy to do it,” she said.
A list of other warming centers in the area can be found on the St. Clair County website.
Police departments, such as Fairview Heights police, also offer courtesy transportation to people who are trapped in the cold.
Beware of injury to pets
Just as people can suffer from exposure to the cold, animals are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia as well.
The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends people bring their pets inside during cold weather to prevent injury. The association also suggests shortening dogs’ walks so they are not exposed to the cold too long.
In addition to keeping pets inside as much as possible, the association suggests preventive measures such as:
▪ Checking your pets’ paws for signs of cold-weather injury or damage.
▪ When walking your dog, stay away from frozen ponds, lakes and other water.
▪ If your pet has a short coat or seems bothered by the cold weather, consider a sweater or pet coat.
▪ Keep your pet at a healthy weight throughout the winter
Signs of hypothermia in animals include: whining, shivering, seems anxious, slows down or stops moving, seems weak or looks for warm places to burrow.
Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances may be more susceptible to weather-related problems since they have a harder time regulating their body temperature.
For those who cannot bring their animals inside, AVMA suggests providing a shelter with an entrance facing away from winds, lifted up off the ground and includes thick and dry bedding.