A snowstorm blew into Lawrence this morning, and forecasters warn that biting cold temperatures and gusty arctic winds expected in the next few days can spell danger for local residents who don't dress appropriately when outside.
A local weather forecaster and the National Weather Service in Topeka are advising people who go out in the cold to bundle up and especially cover their faces and hands. The severe weather can cause injury or death, officials say.
"This is the most underestimated kind of weather," said Mark Bogner, forecaster for the Kansas University Weather Service. "People are always worried about tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, but they don't realize how serious this is."
THE WEATHER system is expected to dump about two inches of snow on the area by tonight and drive temperatures below zero, he said. Tonight's low temperature is expected to dip to minus 5 degrees, and Friday night's low is expected to be minus 1 degree, he said.
As of noon today, the Kansas Turnpike Authority and the Kansas Highway Patrol reported that the snowy conditions did not appear to hamper motorists. No accidents had been reported and roads remained open.
Locally, a dispatcher at the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center said this morning that five accidents had been reported between 8 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
The severely cold temperatures predicted for tonight and Friday, combined with wind, can produce dangerously low wind chill factors, Bogner said.
Bogner is predicting wind chills from 30 to 35 degrees below zero today and tonight and 25 to 30 degrees below zero Friday.
WIND CHILL is the combined effect of temperature and wind that makes it feel much colder than the thermometer registers, Bogner said.
Bogner knows about cold weather and its potential dangers. He has six discolored, frostbitten toes that still hurt when they get cold. They were frostbitten about six years ago.
Bogner cautioned area residents to protect themselves from the cold and wind and from frostbite by wearing several layers of clothing. Frostbite, which is a drying, burning effect on the skin caused by the cold and wind, also is described as a "cold burn" that permanently damages nerve endings, he said.
One of the most dangerous things about frostbite is that it can occur quickly and without the victim knowing it, he said.
THE EXTREMELY low wind chills expected to hit the area are the result of arctic air moving in from the north, which is bringing with it strong, cold winds.
"It's sort of doing double duty," Bogner said.
As the temperatures and wind chill factors plummet, Salvation Army Capt. John Churchill is expecting more people than usual to seek refuge at the agency's shelter, 946 N.H.
Tonight, Churchill said, he expects about 20 overnight guest in the church gymnasium. On less severe nights, from 12 to 15 people will sleep at the shelter, which opened Nov. 1 this year.
Next week, the Salvation Army plans to move the shelter to a house it is renting at 924 N.H., just north of the church.
THE NEW shelter will be open 24 hours a day and will include a full program of classes and individual counseling, Churchill said.
"We hope we'll be able to help some individuals, but we're not going to be able to solve the whole problem," he said.
Churchill said that even now, on bitterly cold days people don't have to wander around town until the shelter opens at night. They are welcome to stay inside the building, he said.
"We keep the coffee brewing and donuts and things here for them," he said.