Bitter cold delays school, prompts frostbite warning

Jan. 06, 2014 @ 10:09 PM

Today’s dangerously low temperatures have delayed school openings and prompted warnings of frostbite and frozen water pipes.

Forecasters said children and the elderly are at highest risk as this morning’s mercury could drop to 5 degrees, with the wind chill factor making it feel like minus 10.

That can produce frostbite to exposed skin in 30 minutes or less.

Durham Public Schools will operate on a two-hour delay. All schools and before-school care will start two hours later than normal, according to William “Chip” Sudderth, director of public information for Durham Public Schools.

Breakfast will not be served, and schools will dismiss at the normal time.

School employees should follow district-approved, bad-weather policies and consult their supervisors if they have questions, Sudderth said.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and Orange County schools will also operate on a two-hour delay.

The bitter cold also leaves the homeless in danger.

Durham police and sheriff’s deputies will be looking for those in trouble and transport them to area shelters, including the Durham Rescue Mission and Urban Ministries of Durham.

Alexander Herring, program director at Urban Ministries downtown, said the shelter has a “white flag” policy when the temperature hits 32 or below. That means that any client who has used all allocated shelter days can still find a bed.

Herring said the shelter has beds for 98 men and 27 women.

“As long as we have room, we’ll take them in,” he said.

At the Rescue Mission, teams with hot coffee and pastries headed Monday into the woods and other areas where homeless people gather to invite them to the mission for shelter.

Mission officials said they’ll make space for men, women and families. Everyone will be given hot meals and clothing during Operation Warm Shelter.

Today’s expected low of 5 degrees in Durham will easily break a record of 15 for Jan. 7 set in 1988, according to Brandon Locklear, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service at N.C. State University.

“This is so far on the extreme side, there’s no doubt that we’re going to completely annihilate the record,” he said. “We should be worried about our pets and our elderly who live alone and may have insufficient heating.”

The coldest temperature ever recorded at Raleigh-Durham Airport was -9 degrees on Jan. 21, 1985.

Today’s high is expected to be 20 to 25 degrees, with wind speeds of 10 to 12 miles per hour.

“Twenty-one degrees is the coldest it’s ever been for a high [on Jan. 7 in Durham], and that was also in 1988,” Locklear said. “We’ll be right around that. We’re dealing with a very extreme event.”

Tonight’s forecast calls for a low of 13 to 15 degrees. Wednesday’s high is expected to be in the upper 30s.

A “warming” trend follows, with Thursday in the low to mid-40s, upper 40s on Friday and near-normal temperatures – mid-50s – Saturday.

Tuesday’s hard freeze also presents a water-pipe hazard.

The Orange Water and Sewer Authority encourages customers to protect their pipes from freezing, which can make them burst and cause extensive damage.

They offered these tips:

- Pipes in unheated areas of a building, such as a crawlspace or basement, have the best chance of freezing. It’s important to seal openings and air leaks, including access doors, air vents in the foundation and cracks.

- Insulation, cardboard, plastic or newspaper can be used to close and seal cracks and other openings.

- If you have difficulty protecting pipes in an unheated area or believe your pipes may freeze, let water drip from the faucet highest in the house or other building.

- If the heat fails long enough for your house or other building to get close to freezing temperatures, or if you have a vacant building with the heat off, do the following:

  + Turn off the water at the master shut-off valve in your plumbing system.

  + Before draining pipes, turn off the water heater to ensure the lack of water doesn’t burn out heating elements.

  + Drain pipes by opening the highest and lowest cold water faucets in your house until the water is gone.

  + Before turning on the hot water heater again, wait until water service is restored and the hot water tank is refilled.

- Insulate pipes in unheated parts of your home.

Staff reporter Jamica Ashley contributed to this story.