Cold continues, but break is in sight

A break in the frigid temperatures is in sight, according to the National Weather Service in Des Moines.

Meteorologist Kurt Kotenberg said as temperatures reached lows of -20 to -30 across the region Monday evening, they are expected to rise throughout the day today.

Kotenberg expects temperatures in Fort Dodge to reach 0 degrees by noon and steadily increase as the week progresses.

“It looks like temperatures could reach a few degrees above zero by afternoon,” he said.

Monday’s cold reached near-record lows, and were some of the coldest Iowa has seen in nearly 18 years, Kotenberg said.

“Right around Feb. 2, 1996, that was the last time we saw wind chills that cold,” he said. “On that day, wind chill values reached

-56 in Mason City 18 years ago. Early Monday morning, wind chills there read 51 below.”

Kotenberg said the cold temperatures spreading across the Midwest were a result of a buildup of polar air.

“It’s been a larger scale event,” he said. “There’s just been a lot of cold air building up along the Pacific Ocean in Alaska and it finally came crashing down on the Midwest.”

Although temperatures will rise slowly throughout the week, Kotenberg said people should still bundle up and protect themselves from the cold today.

“Temperatures are on the rise, but it is still very cold,” he said. “Frostbite can still occur in 20 to 30 minutes with today’s temperatures.”

A warmup is expected by the weekend with highs in the lower to mid-30s Saturday.

No emergency shelters at which people could stay warm were opened in Webster County Monday simply because there was no indication that they would be needed, according to Tony Jorgensen, the county’s emergency management coordinator.

”We do have the resources to open one if needed,” he said.

The cold weather also caused problems for area drivers, some of whom found themselves needing assistance from law enforcement.

Iowa State Patrol Lt. Kelly Hindman said his department was prepared Monday to help any stranded motorists or anyone needing help.

“We put extra people on the road during the overnight hours and brought in some more people this morning,” Hindman said. “We were very worried that if people ran out of gas, surviving for very long would be difficult in this weather.”

Putting extra troopers on the road proved helpful, according to Hindman. A vehicle with seven people in it ran out of gas on the interstate and because of the amount of troopers on the road, Hindman said they were able to be helped fairly quickly.

“Thankfully we had troopers nearby and it didn’t take us long to respond,” he said. “Had that not been the case those seven people would have been stuck out there.”

He said troopers responded to a “higher than normal” amount of car breakdowns and a large amount of calls about flat tires.

“We’ve also seen some mechanical breakdowns, especially in vehicles that run diesel fuel,” he said.

Extra troopers will continue to be out until later this week.

Though the cold weather can make traveling difficult, Hindman said there are steps people can take to make sure they’re not stranded without help.

“Make sure you have an adequate amount of fuel,” he said. “If your travel isn’t necessary, simply delay it until the weather breaks. If it’s something that can wait, then make the trip later.”

He added that “people with diesel vehicles should realize that in the very extreme cold, it’ll act differently than routine winter days.”

Hindman also said that drivers should pack extra blankets in their car and have a fully-charged cell phone to call for help.

“It’s colder than people are prepared for,” he said. “We can keep the school kids home, but people have to get to work and it’s not like we can ask everybody to stay home.”