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Published: Saturday, 12/25/2004

Region's brutal cold nips at record lows

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Whether or not Santa Claus came down the chimney overnight, Jack Frost is knocking at the door this holiday morning with subzero cold.

Accu-Weather Inc., a private forecasting service based in State College, Pa., predicted a morning low in Toledo of minus 6, but forecaster Henry Margusity said it could get quite a bit colder than that in rural areas.

"Some outlying areas could be like minus 12," Mr. Margusity said.

So what does that mean for the area's record low for Dec. 25, which forecasters believe was set in 1983 at minus 13 degrees?

"We have a good chance of [breaking] it," Mr. Margusity said.

"We're going to get close," agreed Brian Mitchell, a meteorological technician with the National Weather Service in Cleveland, which forecast morning lows of minus 10 in Toledo, minus 5 in Sandusky, and minus 12 in Defiance.

Whatever the actual low, it will be plenty cold enough to cause the beginnings of frostbite in a minute, or less, on skin exposed to the chill, Jason Vaughan, an emergency room doctor at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center in Toledo, said yesterday.

"The superficial parts of your skin will begin to freeze almost immediately," he said.

While the onset of frostbite usually causes a tingling sensation, Dr. Vaughan said, numbness soon sets in - numbness that can mask the problem's growing severity.

Experts advised parents to be particularly wary about their children getting frostbitten. Minor frostbite should be treated by immersing affected areas in warm - not hot - water after removing wet clothes.

Emergency medical care should be sought for more serious cases, and frostbitten skin should not be warmed if there is a chance it will refreeze before being treated. In no case should frostbite be warmed with an open flame.

Covering as much skin as possible and wearing multiple layers, which trap warm air near the body the way multiple-layer thermal windows help insulate homes, is the best way to beat the cold, Dr. Vaughan said. Mittens are better than gloves in bitter cold because inside mittens, the fingers keep each other warm, he said.

Those heading out into the cold should encounter decent road conditions, although driving on some city side streets could still be tricky. The Ohio Department of Transportation said that, outside of the hardest-hit areas like Seneca County, highways were in good shape.

Seneca was the only area county to maintain a Level 2 snow warning yesterday afternoon, a status under which motorists were urged to avoid unnecessary travel because of hazardous conditions. Several others kept Level 1 advisories to remind drivers to be careful on slippery roads.

Bob Myers, assistant superintendent for the Lucas County engineer, said most county roads were clear, but some rural roads had isolated patches of hard-packed snow to which chemically treated salt had been applied.

Dave Moebius, Toledo's commissioner of streets, bridges, and harbor, said city crews had made at least one plowing pass on most streets but conceded that some smaller streets might still have snow on them.

"Parked cars determine the quality of snow removal in the residential streets," he said, acknowledging that older neighborhoods may have limited off-street parking.

In some cities, including Tiffin and Port Clinton, cars impeding snowplows on the streets were being ticketed and towed. In Clyde, police were warning motorists before ticketing or towing their cars.

Northwood issued a tow warning, but police dispatchers said they were unaware of any cars being towed.

Forecasters said a weak weather system will bring a few snow showers to the region this evening. While the National Weather Service predicted "little or no accumulation," Mr. Margusity said some areas might get an inch or two.

Even without more snow, the cold is sufficient to add an extra burden to area homeless shelters that already were scrambling to put holiday meals and programs together - though some said bed demand won't get strong for a few more weeks.

Toledo Rescue Mission expanded in February to include a 10-bed women's unit along with its 28 transitional beds for men. Several bunks were added in its men's shelter.

The expansion at the Jefferson Avenue facility has meant a bit of extra room - for now at least, said Mike Helmke, administrative assistant.

"We didn't have anyone sleeping on couches last night," he said.

Formerly homeless himself, Mr. Helmke said the first cold snap of the year doesn't drive everyone indoors.

Those sleeping outside throughout the summer have staked out beds in shelters, and those who are sleeping in abandoned buildings might ride out the cold for a few more weeks, he said.

"The ground isn't frozen yet, so you're dealing with the cold air only," Mr. Helmke said. "I usually find that the real rush comes in January or so."

Mel Nieswender, house manager of the Philadelphia House in Monroe, a shelter for about 30 men, wonders if something else might be driving clients into shelters after the holidays.

For one thing, he said, some of the holiday generosity evaporates in January.

"The money dries up and you're going to have those family problems and those drinking problems in the coming weeks that puts them out on the streets," he said.

Still, other shelters report being pushed to the limits already. St. Paul's Community Center's year-round shelter serves about three dozen adults throughout the year, but it has been operating at capacity for several weeks now, said program director Christopher Abrams.

While cots are no longer available, Mr. Abrams said, the shelter will still provide a warm place for anyone to go.

Blade staff writers Steve Eder and Robin Erb contributed to this story.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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