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Bitter temperatures and bracing winds iced Toledo and surrounding areas in a deep freeze on Monday after the region’s heaviest snowfall in years shut down much of the region.
The frigid temperatures and icy road conditions led Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp at 3:50 a.m. today to impose a Level 3 snow emergency, which means only emergency personnel are permitted to drive. A Level 3 emergency is still in effect for all northwest Ohio counties.
From shortly after midnight to 9 p.m. Monday, the temperature at Toledo Express Airport fell from 20 degrees to -15, breaking the record for the date set in 1884. By 11 p.m., it had warmed up to -14.
By sunrise today, Toledo’s temperature was forecast to be -18, which is the coldest since 1994, if not dipping further to an all-time record low.
That plunge began toward the end of a 13-inch snowfall at the airport Sunday into early Monday, with comparable snowfalls in many neighboring communities, primarily west and north of Toledo.
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While Brian Mitchell, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Cleveland, said it did not appear Monday evening that the cold would deepen enough overnight to break Toledo’s all-time record of -20, set on Jan. 21, 1984, the brisk winds would remain a factor for several days. The extreme low temperatures and gusty wind were expected to combine for dangerous wind chills as low as -45.
“The winds are only gradually going to taper off the next 24 to 36 hours,” Mr. Mitchell said. “It’s going to be Wednesday before the wind really settles down.”
The snow and cold prompted officials in many northwest Ohio counties to declare travel bans, while weather forecasters warned of dangerous wind chills that could cause frostbite to exposed skin in minutes and death from prolonged exposure. Schools, colleges, and businesses stayed closed across northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.
One weather-related death was reported in the area, that of an elderly woman found Monday morning in Wauseon, face-down in the snow near her car.
Virginia McFeters, 90, lived at Wauseon Senior Villas on Glenwood Avenue in the city, and another resident at the complex saw her drive off in her car. Police were alerted and found the car stuck in the snow nearby, with the woman's body outside it, said Bill McConnell, Wauseon’s assistant police chief, who found her.
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It was unknown how long Ms. McFeters had been in the snow, but Chief McConnell said snow was drifting around the body. It looked as though she tried to make her way back to her home after the car became stuck, he said.
Sally Roach of Delta, Ms. McFeters’ daughter, said her siblings had no idea why their mother was out and about or where she was headed.
Ms. McFeters, who had lived in the villa community about seven years, was active in the First Christian Church on Elm Street in Wauseon. Residents who knew her described her as an active, church-going, kind woman.
The death, the assistant chief said, is a reminder that it is dangerous to be outside during extreme winter weather.
In Lucas County, a Level 3 storm emergency in place since early evening Sunday that forbade all nonessential travel was downgraded Monday afternoon to a Level 2 advisory. But the Level 3 ban remained in effect in many other counties, including Hancock, Fulton, Williams, Henry, Defiance, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Seneca.
Lucas County officials continued Monday afternoon to caution residents to stay off roads as much as possible but eased up on restrictions, citing successful plowing efforts in some areas and a desire to accommodate businesses and employers.
Franklin Park Mall and until 6 p.m., Hollywood Casino Toledo, were among the many businesses that stayed closed on Monday.
The Lucas County Courthouse, Perrysburg Municipal Court, and all branches of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library planned to stay closed for a second straight day today, and many schools were likely to extend Christmas break yet another day because of the dangerous cold. The Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont said it would remain closed today too.
Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp praised drivers for obeying road restrictions, saying he saw very few cars traveling during the period of highest emergency level.
But once traffic returned to the roads, officials reported widespread minor traffic crashes as plowed, but still snow-covered, highways became slick.
Among them was the collision of two tractor-trailers that partially blocked southbound I-75 near Stickney Avenue late in the afternoon. Southbound I-75 in Monroe County was reported to be blocked for several hours Monday night by a jack-knifed semi.
Railroad operations through Toledo were disrupted by frozen switches, crews who couldn't get to work, and other weather-related problems. Amtrak's Chicago-bound Lake Shore Limited, already 5½ hours late, was delayed four more hours Monday afternoon in Toledo because of weather trouble.
Amtrak canceled the New York-Chicago train's departures Monday night in both directions, although its New York-Washington service, also with a stop in Toledo, was to keep running.
The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority continued its bus and paratransit services Monday, largely carrying health-care workers and some law enforcement officers and people with essential medical appointments, said James Gee, TARTA’s general manager.
“Our folks here are very used to dealing with snow, but we aren’t as used to dealing with subzero temperatures, and that can cause equipment issues with vehicles while they are out on the road,” said Mr. Gee, noting that the transit agency will have backup buses and drivers to cover any breakdowns today.
Perrysburg schools’ Superintendent Thomas Hosler cited “dangerous wind chills” and drifting snow for his decision to cancel classes for a second day today.
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Some students walk nearly a mile to school, enough time to risk frostbite, he said, while those who ride buses could be endangered waiting at bus stops or if stranded by a bus breakdown.
Those who must go out in extreme cold should “dress in the warmest stuff you have, dress in layers, and cover your feet, head, and hands,” said Steve Wing, an emergency room doctor at Toledo Hospital.
Dr. Wing said he treated a few cases of hypothermia over the last few days and some patients who slipped and fell on ice, but his emergency room was not busy Monday.
Officials at other area hospitals also reported a slow pace Monday but expect the number of people coming in with frostbite, hypothermia, and other weather-related ailments to increase as the mercury falls.
Dr. Wing said it’s fine to let children play outside during the warmest part of the day but ensure they have no exposed skin and urge them to take frequent warm-up breaks.
Frostbite should be treated with warm water, not hot, because numb skin can’t feel the water temperature, the doctor said. People also should be careful walking on slippery pavement, he said.
Bowling Green resident Anita Good was bundled up and armed with a shovel against the ice and blowing snow as she fought to clear a neighbor’s sidewalk.
“It just keeps blowing back,” Ms. Good said. “It’s a never-ending battle.”
The neighbor, a police officer, had been out working throughout the previous night, so Ms. Good felt no hardship helping out on a day when she stayed home from her job as a real-estate appraiser.
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On icy I-75, traffic was sparse except for truckers still trying to deliver their cargoes, although there also were reports of filling stations running out of gasoline because tanker-truck deliveries were canceled.
Snowdrifts coated many rural roads, making them impassable to vehicles without four-wheel drive.
Theresa Pollick, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation in Bowling Green, said the blowing snow rapidly undid her agency’s dozens of snow-and-ice crews’ work on state highways throughout the region. The snowpack on many roads likely will remain until the weekend, when forecasters say temperatures above freezing will return.
“We’re not going to get rid of it until we get warmer weather,” Ms. Pollick said.
Bowling Green police issued tickets to motorists who violated the travel ban, and the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office said it started to do the same after receiving reports of motorists stranded on rural roads as they tried to dodge drifts.
In South Toledo, city police charged Jacob Kaczala, 26, of 1151 Eastgate Rd. with driving on a closed roadway, failure to comply with a police order, and several other counts after a brief chase involving an all-terrain vehicle he drove on a public street Sunday night during the travel ban.
The ATV crashed into a police car at Westgate and Norwich roads, ending the chase. No one was injured, but Mr. Kaczala was booked into the Lucas County jail, where he remained Monday after Toledo Municipal Court stayed closed because of the weather.
In Oregon, meanwhile, an ATV rider suffered undisclosed injuries after colliding with a snowplow Sunday night. Jeffrey McCawley, whose age was unreported, was taken to Mercy St. Charles Hospital following the 9:58 p.m. collision in the 6300 block of Corduroy Road.
Ethan Binger, 22, a Bowling Green State University student, slowly dug out a car Monday morning that his girlfriend abandoned the night before in their parking lot.
“It’s only been about 15 minutes,” Mr. Binger said before he pushed it out of high snow with her behind the wheel.
Not everyone took off work because of the inclement weather.
Randy Graber, a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier, kept to his appointed rounds delivering mail in Bowling Green, but said he would not deliver mail to homes where no path had been cleared to the mailbox.
To Toledo’s southeast, snowfall totals weren’t as high, but ice and blowing snow were still a problem.
Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz said freezing rain and sleet that coated the city in ice Sunday afternoon brought concerns about power outages, while snow covered that icy layer on streets. Hancock County Sheriff’s deputies reported packed ice and snow up to three inches thick on roads there.
Michigan’s Hillsdale County battled snow-covered roads and blowing snow. Sheriff Stan Burchardt said some rural roads were impassable Monday as the wind howled.
His advice for stormy conditions like this is simple: wear proper clothing and gloves, don’t go out unless it’s necessary, and carry a cell phone if you do.
Caring for animals
The Toledo Area Humane Society, which closed Monday, received numerous messages to its Facebook page about animals left out in the cold since Saturday.
“A lot of people are very concerned about the extreme temperatures,” said Danielle Jones, director of marketing and development. “Some people are taking it upon themselves to help whatever animals they do see.”
Because of weather and road conditions, the organization’s two animal cruelty investigators’ ability to respond to calls is constrained — if they can reach call locations at all, Mrs. Jones said.
Residents should use their best judgment to help animals as much as possible, she said, and call police if a problem is severe.
Jon Rupp, a Fulton County farmer who lives near Fayette, said livestock are a farmer’s priority when temperatures drop below zero. Even with modern barns, feed augers and watering systems can freeze, he said in an email.
“It is not uncommon that during storms like this a farmer will spend all day checking and tending his livestock,” Mr. Rupp said. “The wind is the most dangerous with the low wind chills.”
Dr. Sarah Anderson, a veterinarian at the Animal Emergency and Critical Care Center on Douglas Road, said the clinic was busier than usual as other area veterinary offices were closed. Only a few animals have come in with hypothermia and frostbite.
“We’re seeing that with dogs that are brought in by the dog warden because they’re strays,” she said. “Especially with this cold snap, extra cautions should be taken [with family pets]. Short walks are OK, and to go outside for the bathroom, but long outings should be avoided."
Trouble signs include shivering, lethargy, pain, and unusually red, white, or black skin. Pets showing such symptoms should be brought inside to a warm area and dried and warmed with heated towels and blankets, Dr. Anderson said.
“You want to be careful not to use methods that can burn, like hot water bottles and rice bags,” she said. “They can be used, but you don’t want to get them too hot.”
Staff writers Janet Romaker, Ignazio Messina, Tom Troy, Marlene Harris-Taylor, Alexandra Mester, and David Patch contributed to this report.