Midwest cities try to keep homeless from record cold

  • Moorhead, MN area elementary school electronic sign shows to temperature Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Daytime temperatures in the Fargo-Moorhead area were near -20F as frigid weather grips the area. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy) Bruce Crummy

  • Frost covers part of the face of University of Minnesota student Daniel Dylla during a morning jog along Mississippi River Parkway Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, in Minneapolis. Extreme cold and record-breaking temperatures are crawling into parts of the Midwest after a powerful snowstorm pounded the region, and forecasters warn that the frigid weather could be life-threatening. (David Joles/Star Tribune via AP) David Joles

  • Morning commuters face a tough slog on Wacker Drive in Chicago, Monday. ap photo

  • Gary Verstegen clears a sidewalk as a winter storm moves through Wisconsin on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, in Little Chute, Wis. (William Glasheen/The Post-Crescent via AP) William Glasheen

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    Chicago's El trains move along snow-covered tracks Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, in Chicago. The plunging temperatures expected later this week that have forecasters especially concerned. Wind chills could dip to negative 55 degrees in northern Illinois, which the National Weather Service calls "possibly life threatening." (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato) Kiichiro Sato

  • Nathan Tearman, front center, gets help from his brother James as they shovel the driveway of their home on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, after a winter snowstorm made its way through Janesville, Wis. Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers declared a state of emergency shortly after noon Monday, citing the snow and severe cold that is forecast for the days ahead. (Anthony Wahl/The Janesville Gazette via AP) Anthony Wahl

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    Commuters wait for a train as snow falls Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, in Chicago. The plunging temperatures expected later this week that have forecasters especially concerned. Wind chills could dip to negative 55 degrees in northern Illinois, which the National Weather Service calls "possibly life threatening." (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato) Kiichiro Sato

  • Hand prints are left behind as traffic moves slowly along College Avenue during a snowstorm Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, in downtown Appleton, Wis. (Dan Powers/The Post-Crescent via AP) Dan Powers

  • Adam Fischer shovels out his vehicle to go to work Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, in Rochester, Minn. Heavy snow and gusting winds created blizzard-like conditions Monday across parts of the Midwest, prompting officials to close hundreds of schools, courthouses and businesses, and ground air travel. (Joe Ahlquist/The Rochester Post-Bulletin via AP) Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com

  • An employee of Pozorski Hauling & Recycling collects trash during a snowstorm Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, in Manitowoc, Wis. (Joshua Clark/The Post-Crescent via AP) Joshua Clark

  • Aaron Braun puts in extra effort to get through the pile of snow at the end of his Mankato, Minn., driveway Monday, Jan. 28, 2019. (Pat Christman/The Free Press via AP) Pat Christman

  • Dave Hacker carries his shovel back to his garage after shoveling his driveway as it continues to snow onMonday, Jan. 28, 2019, in Germantown, Wis. A number of inches of snow accumulated in Washington County Sunday Sunday night through Monday. (John Ehlke/West Bend Daily News via AP) John Ehlke

  • Ausencio Castaneda of Kewaskum, left, clears a path to a series of mailboxes outside a multi-family home with his son Ausencio Castaneda Jr. onMonday, Jan. 28, 2019, in Kewaskum, Wis. A number of inches of snow accumulated in Washington County Sunday Sunday night through Monday. (John Ehlke/West Bend Daily News via AP) John Ehlke

  • Cars are covered by snow, Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, in Wheeling, Ill. A winter storm brought more than 5 inches of snow to northern Illinois as the region braced itself for record-low subzero temperatures. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) Nam Y. Huh

  • Tow truck personnel work to remove an overturned semi in the median of Interstate 90 at mile marker 218 near the U.S. Highway 52 exit Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, southeast of Rochester, Minn. According to Sgt. Troy Christianson, with the Minnesota State Patrol, the semi was eastbound and went straight off the gradual curve into the median because of blowing snow. Sgt. Christianson said there were no injuries in the crash. (Joe Ahlquist/The Rochester Post-Bulletin via AP) Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com

  • A plow removes snow along West Wisconsin Avenue at North 8th Street in Milwaukee on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019. Heavy snow and gusting winds created blizzard-like conditions Monday across parts of the Midwest, prompting officials to close hundreds of schools, courthouses and businesses as forecasters warn that dangerously cold weather is right behind the snowstorm. (Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP) Mike De Sisti

  • Pedestrians cross an icy Chicago River on Madison St. near the Civic Opera House in Chicago, Monday, Jan. 28, 2019. (Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times via AP) Rich Hein

Associated Press
Published: 1/29/2019 11:36:52 PM

BISMARCK, N.D. — 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 (negative 32 degrees Celsius) in North Dakota with wind chills as low as minus 62 (negative 52 degrees Celsius) 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 U.S. Postal Service said it will not deliver mail in parts of the Midwest Wednesday because of the cold.

The bitter cold is the result of a split in the polar vortex that allowed temperatures to plunge much further south in North America than normal.

The National Weather Service forecast for Wednesday night called for temperatures in Chicago as low as minus 28 (negative 33 degrees Celsius), with wind chills to minus 50 (negative 46 degrees Celsius). Detroit’s outlook was for Wednesday overnight lows around minus 15 (negative 26 degrees Celsius), with wind chills dropping to minus 40 (negative 40 degrees Celsius).

“These are actually a public health risk and you need to treat it appropriately,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday. “They are life-threatening conditions and temperatures.”

A wind chill of minus 25 (negative 32 degrees Celsius) 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.

Nineteen-year-old Deontai Jordan and dozens of others found refuge from the cold in the basement of a church in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“You come here, you can take a nap, you can snack, you can use the bathroom, you might even be able to shower,” he said. “And then they’re feeding you well. Not to mention they give out clothes, they give out shoes, they give out socks.”

Hundreds of public schools from North Dakota to Missouri to Michigan canceled classes Tuesday, and some on Wednesday as well. So did several large universities.

Closing schools for an extended stretch isn’t an easy decision, even though most school districts build potential makeup days into their schedules, said Josh Collins, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Education.

“Many students, they might have two working parents, so staying home might mean they’re not supervised,” he said. “For some low-income students, the lunch they receive at school might be their most nutritious meal of the day.”

American Indian tribes in the Upper Midwest were doing what they could to help members in need with heating supplies.

Many people on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in the Dakotas live in housing that’s decades old and in disrepair, or in emergency government housing left over from southern disasters such as hurricanes.

“They aren’t made for this (northern) country. The cold just goes right through them,” said Elliott Ward, the tribe’s emergency response manager.

The extreme cold was “a scary situation” for the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, said Chris Fairbanks, manager of the northern Minnesota tribe’s energy assistance program.

“We have many, many calls coming in. We’re just swamped trying to get everybody what they need,” she said.

The cold was even shutting down typical outdoor activities. A ski hill in the Minneapolis area said it would close through Wednesday. So did an ice castle attraction.

The cold weather was even affecting beer deliveries, with a pair of western Wisconsin distributors saying they would delay or suspend shipments for fear that beer would freeze in their trucks.

The unusually frigid weather is attributed to a sudden warming far above the North Pole. A blast of warm air from misplaced Moroccan heat last month made the normally super chilly air temperatures above the North Pole rapidly increase. That split the polar vortex into pieces, which then started to wander, said Judah Cohen, a winter storm expert for Atmospheric Environmental Research.

One of those polar vortex pieces is responsible for the subzero temperatures across the Midwest this week.


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