WILLMAR -- Last week's bad weather did more than close schools and interfere with travel. It also disrupted the Red Cross's efforts to collect blood for use in the region's hospitals.
There's still enough blood for patients who need it, but donors are being urged to give at the earliest available chance so the supply can be replenished, said Red Cross spokeswoman Jill Applegate.
"O-negative blood has dropped to emergency levels. We are at less than a one-day supply," she said.
January is traditionally "a tough month" for local blood drives, Applegate said. Cold and snow can discourage donors from attending, and flu, colds and other illnesses also take a toll on donors' ability to give blood.
On Jan. 5 and 6, however, a winter storm accompanied by high winds and subzero weather forced the cancellation of five blood drives in Minnesota, resulting in 265 fewer units of blood that would otherwise have been collected on those two days.
Several blood drives also closed early because of the weather, Applegate said. "It did impact the blood supply."
Overall, the supply is still adequate, she said. Minnesota is in a Red Cross division that includes 11 other states, so it's possible to manage the inventory so blood is available wherever it's needed.
But Red Cross officials are keeping a close eye on the supply of O-negative blood, which has dropped to a critically low level. The organization aims for at least a one- to three-day supply; five to seven days is considered best.
Messages were sent out this week to donors and blood drive coordinators, letting them know about the situation and urging them to donate if they're eligible.
The O-negative supply is especially vital because it's compatible with other blood types and can be transfused in an emergency. All blood types are important to have on hand, however, Applegate said.
"We just request that people keep donating, no matter what your blood type," she said. "We still have the patients. Patients need blood. We ask donors to come out and give. Now is a good time."
Appointments are preferred, so the Red Cross can plan for staffing levels and so donors don't have to wait as long. It's now possible to make appointments online at the Red Cross site, www.givebloodgivelife.org.
Walk-in donors also are welcome. Because the first and last hours of any blood drive tend to the busiest, it's best for walk-ins to come during the middle hours, Applegate said.
There'll be several opportunities in the next few weeks to give blood. Blood drives are scheduled Jan. 26 in Willmar, Montevideo and Granite Falls, Jan. 28 in Granite Falls, Feb. 4 in Paynesville and Atwater, and Feb. 8 in Willmar.