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Plugging in block heaters can help vehicles start during extreme cold weather. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)

Even hardy Minnesotans need to brace for this January cold snap

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WILLMAR — Any self-respecting Minnesotan knows not to whine about cold in January, but even by tough Nordic standards, it is going to be frigid as an Alberta Clipper delivers an Arctic blast of brutally cold temperatures over the next few days.

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Howling winds gusting to 45 mph this afternoon will bring the first wave of cold air that is forecast produce a daytime high Monday of only 7 degrees below zero.

Meteorologists say it will be the first time in about four years that the state has had sub-zero temperatures for highs.

In case the long warm spell has dulled the memory, local professionals offer some advice for keeping homes, vehicles, pets and the human body safe during the upcoming cold snap.

Car trouble

Carl Duininck, shop technician and manager of Deering’s Sales and Towing near Spicer, expects to be busy towing dead vehicles and repairing alternators, starters and fuel pumps and replacing batteries during the upcoming cold snap.

“There will be a lot of dead vehicles,” said Duininck. “We will have a lot of no-start tows.”

Duininck advises people to check the coolant levels in the radiators and make sure the protection level is good for sub-zero temperatures to prevent blowing out a head gasket.

Batteries can be checked at garages to make sure they are fully charged to start in the ultra-cold weather, he said.

Keeping vehicles in a garage and plugging in block heaters can help convince engines to turn over.

“Newer vehicles tend to start a little easier in the cold, but even they’ll have trouble this week,” said Duininck.

Cold weather can also speed up slow leaks in tires, he said. Air pressure should be kept at 30 psi.

Duininck said every motorist should have a winter survival kit in their vehicle this week.

Items like a flashlight, jumper cables, blankets, first-aid kit, snacks, cell phone, extra clothing and shovel can be useful items to have while waiting for the tow truck.

Keep the body covered

Many schools don’t have class on Monday because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, but some students will be outside waiting for the bus or walking to school when temperatures are expected to hit 16 degrees below zero.

Those who aren’t in class may be tempted to spend the day playing outside.

“Don’t forget to protect your children from the potential dangers of frostbite,” wrote Dr. Jane Willett, a family medicine physician with Affiliated Community Medical Centers in Marshall in a Facebook post.

“Kids are at greater risk for frostbite because they lose heat from their skin more rapidly and they often don’t want to leave the fun they’re having outside to come in and warm up,” she said.

The body areas most prone to frostbite are the head, face, ears, hands and feet.

She provided a link with a guide on the signs and symptoms of frostbite and what to do if you think your child is frostbitten.

The signs and symptoms include aching pain or numbness and skin that feels hard and waxy with a white or grayish yellow color.

A child with potential frostbite should be brought indoors immediately. The guidelines recommend warming the frostbitten parts in warm (not hot) water for about 30 minutes.  Frostbitten parts should not be rubbed or treated with dry heat like a fireplace of heating pad.

Emergency medical care should be sought if the child has a body part or area of skin that is turning white and hard.

Pet safety

Exposing pets to the outdoors should be minimal when temperatures go below zero, said Dr. Shayla Prestegord, a veterinarian at the Willmar Pet Hospital, who said she is prepared to receive additional calls for service this week to respond to animals harmed by the severe temperatures.

“Just because they’re covered in fur doesn’t mean they’re immune from the cold,” she said. “When in doubt, keep them inside.”

Small dogs may get “wimpy and won’t go outside” for their daily constitutional. A pair of booties can help ease their discomfort.

Pets that are kept outside, like barn cats and farm dogs, should have access to a heated structure, food and warm water, said Prestegord.

Pet owners should watch for frost bite to paw pads and tips of ears. Chemicals that melt snow should be pet-friendly to prevent abrasions to paws.

Signs of frost bite can be treated by getting animals inside and wrapping affected parts in warm towels but she said severe cases should be treated by a veterinarian.

Water pipe problems

The warm temperatures and melting snow on Friday felt nice but the quick cool down could mean problems for sewer vents on roofs, said Bob Boehme, from A & B Plumbing and Heating of Kandiyohi.

Constricted vents could result in sewer gas coming into homes.

He recommends raking ice and snow from roofs to prevent that problem and taking time to do some basic home maintenance, like insulating water pipes that run along floor joists near outside walls, in advance of the sub-zero temperatures.

Snow or hay bales should be banked up on exterior walls of modular or mobile homes and heat tapes should be plugged in and placed alongside water pipes, said Boehme.

“The slightest draft on a water pipe will freeze it solid,” he said, adding that typically hot water pipes are first to freeze.

Letting water faucets run at a slow dribble can prevent pipes from freezing up in urban homes but that practice can cause shallow septic systems to freeze up, he said.

Outside water spigots can freeze and burst if they are slowly dripping or not covered up. Those water lines should be turned off inside the house and the outside faucets insulated and covered.

Rural homeowners might want to consider putting a heat lamp in well pits to keep the water pumps working.

“When water lines bust, they can cause thousands of dollars in damage, so a little home maintenance can go a long way,” said Boehme, who said he expects to get a few emergency calls for service this week.

When temperatures get as low as what’s predicted this week, Boehme said, “there’s going to be a lot of stuff that freezes no matter what precautions you take.”

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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