Bitterly cold arctic air closed local schools today and Friday and is expected to shatter low temperatures records tonight while gusty winds drive wind chills down to levels more common to the Yukon.
Although the area has experienced piercing winter conditions for about two weeks, today is the first official day of winter.
Rob Edmiston, forecaster for the Kansas University Weather Service, said this morning that he is predicting a low temperature tonight of 21 degrees below zero, which would be 15 degrees below the previous record of minus 6 degrees set in 1916. If winds gust out of the north up to 30 mph, as forecasted, area wind chills could go as low as 90 degrees below zero.
On Friday, it is expected to warm to a high of 5 degrees below zero, which is not far from Friday night's predicted low temperture of 9 degrees below zero, Edmiston said.
SATURDAY, however, should warm to a comparatively tropical 12 degrees above zero, he said.
Despite the forecast for the remainder of the week, Edmiston did have some good news to report this morning temperatures are expected to return to normal by Christmas, with highs in the 40s and lows in the 20s. Light flurries are the only snow in the forecast.
In the meantime, Douglas County Health Department officials are recommending people not venture out of doors, and a local veterinarian offers advice to animal owners on how to help their pets through the cold spell.
Barbara Schnitker, a registered nurse and director of nurses at the county health department, said the most effective way to deal with the extreme cold is to stay inside.
However, people who must go outside are asked to layer their clothing. Air pockets between the layers act as insulation, Schnitker said.
Waterproof outerwear also is recommended to help ward off the damp weather. Wool garments are suggested because they provide warmth even when wet, she said.
INADEQUATE dress against the cold could result in hypothermia, a condition where the body's inner heat is lost, she said. The condition can result in a matter of minutes and, if not treated, could result in death in two hours, she said.
An adequate diet including plenty of fluids but not alcohol also is advisable for people planning to go outside, she said. Alcohol allows more heat to escape the body than usual, she said.
Kevin Kuenzi, a veterinarian at Bradley Veterinary Hospital, said this morning that pet owners should take special care of their animals during the extreme cold.
Pets kept outdoors should be provided with adequate shelter, which Kuenzi said could range from a cardboard box to an insulated doghouse. The shelter should be kept clean and dry and out of the wind, he said.
"They really don't mind the cold so much if they can get out of the wind," Kuenzi said.
PET OWNERS also should feed their pets a diet high in calories, which they can convert to energy to help them stay warm, he said. Fresh water should be supplied daily and checked regularly to ensure that it has not frozen.
Since many people are winterizing their cars, Kuenzi said antifreeze should be properly discarded because it is deadly to animals, who enjoy its taste. He said antifreeze's main ingredient tastes sweet to animals.
Pets kept indoors also should be kept away from Christmas tree water, which will make the animal sick if it drinks it.
JANET SCHAAKE, who with her husband, Roger, raises cattle east of Lawrence, said the livestock was able to withstand the cold as long they are fed often enough.
The cattle use the grain and hay they are fed to convert energy to heat, she said. The cows also huddle together to share warmth and have a barn into which they can retreat if the temperatures becomes unbearable, she said.
She and her husband have heated water troughs on their farm to prevent freezing.
Patty Flory, an employee at Dillon's on 23rd Street, said the store experienced a significant increase in business Wednesday and attributed the increase to the snow and cold weather.
She said business typically picks up during extreme weather conditions with people stocking their shelves in the event they become snowbound.