Dangerous temperatures replace heavy snowfall

Friday, December 24, 2004

Forget Christmas bells and carols.

The sounds of the season Thursday were those related to man's battle against the snow.

All over Cape Girardeau, tires squealed as they tried to pull cars over small inclines. Horns beeped to the slow traffic pace along William Street.

Shovels scraped hoarsely over sidewalks, and snow plows bellowed low bass notes to complete the winter orchestra.

Another 2 to 4 inches of snow fell overnight in the Cape Girardeau area, an encore to the biggest snowstorm in years. About 10 inches fell on Wednesday, just two days into winter.

Although weather forecasters say the snow is done for now, temperatures will turn dangerously cold in the upcoming days.

A high school band from Spencer, Iowa, experienced the full effects of the season as they passed through the Bootheel. The 105-member band, on its way home from playing in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla., got stuck two times Wednesday along Interstate 55, once at Portageville, Mo., and again at Marston, Mo. It would make them 12 hours late getting home.

"The kids are holding up, taking it in stride," said band director Kurt Schwark. "But it's cold, even for Iowa kids."

Kevin Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky., said lows in the Cape Girardeau area could fall as low as minus 2 today and Christmas Day. Wind chills could drop to minus 12.

According to Southeast Missourian archives, the temperature hasn't dipped below zero since Jan. 13, 1997, when a low of minus 1 was recorded.

The temperature was about 15 degrees with wind chills near zero mid-Thursday morning. The wind created drifts more than 3 feet high, but the conditions didn't stop the city's residents from crawling out from the thick, white, frigid quilt.

Billy Castile and Willie Cook of Castile Construction swept snow off the roof of a building on Broadway. Castile and Cook had placed blue tarps on the unfinished roof to protect it from leaking. They spent much of the morning wrestling the snow off the roof and onto the sidewalk below.

They said they weren't cold. Castile wore three layers. Cook wore five.

But how cold is too cold to work?

"Never," Castile said. "It's never too cold to work. If you get out, you just got to keep moving."

On Ranney Street in south Cape Girardeau, Russell Hayward and his two daughters, Tameka and Raye, shoveled the driveway, wearing socks as makeshift mittens.

"Again," Hayward said, voicing frustration at having to repeat the labor he had just done the day before. "I haven't seen this much snow since I was 14 or 15 years old." Hayward is 41.

Hayward's wife, who works at a hotel in town, stayed at the hotel overnight because of the weather conditions. He and his daughters were digging out a spot for the car.

The city was buzzing with such activity. On nearly every street, men, women and children shoveled or scraped. Long lines of traffic spilled into Cape Girardeau's west side.

Health organizations warn of spending too much time out in the extreme elements, however.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control website, the two most common problems related to extremely cold temperatures are hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia is particularly dangerous, the CDC says, because a low body temperature affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly.

Elderly people with inadequate food, clothing or heating, babies sleeping in cold bedrooms, people who remain outdoors for long periods and people who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs are all more prone to develop hypothermia, the CDC says.

Warning signs include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness in adults. Infants will have bright red, cold skin and low energy. If a person's temperature drops below 95 degrees, immediate medical attention is necessary.

Frostbite, while less serious than hypothermia, can do permanent damage to the body.

The CDC says people should get out of the cold at the first sign of pain or redness in the skin. Frostbitten skin may appear white or yellowish. It may feel firm or waxy and numb.

Smith, the meteorologist said the next chance for precipitation should come in the form of rain by the middle of next week. He said the temperatures should begin a steady climb after Christmas.

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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