For workers outdoors, ‘it was very, very cold’

Relief from record temperatures on the way
Jan. 07, 2014 @ 06:20 PM

Tony Horn has worked construction for 35 years, but he’s seen few days like Tuesday.

Everything was frozen, including lumber, paint, hammers and nails.

That didn’t leave much manual labor for him to do, but he endured the single-digit temperatures for as long as his toes and ears would allow, checking progress at Circle Ninth Street apartment complex at Main and Ninth streets.

“It’s cold, and the wind is really bad,” Horn, 48, said during a break Tuesday morning.

“I worked in Asheville last year, and this is colder.”

Durham’s official low of 9 degrees Tuesday morning broke the previous record of 15 set in 1988, meteorologist Shawna Cokley at the National Weather Service said.

Horn used his time Tuesday to inspect the partially completed apartment buildings, and found that wind was his top enemy.

“When you get inside the [apartment] enclosures and the wind funnels through the breezeways – that’s a different cold,” he said. “It’s the coldest day I’ve worked in at least 10 years.”

At the nearby Crescent Main Street apartments construction site at Fifteenth and Main streets, Gabriel Ortiz was completing his fourth straight hour loading and unloading frozen lumber. With five layers of clothing, long johns, thermal gloves and heat packs in his boots, Ortiz had done all he could to stay warm, but it wasn’t quite enough.

When he showed up for work at 7 a.m., he said, “I was frozen cold. It was very, very cold.”

Ortiz, who has worked construction for 14 years, said the wind made things “100 times worse.”

He said his wool socks help, but “I thought my toes were going to fall off this morning.”

Patrick Conth, owner of Millenium Sports Club in Durham, said he had an uncomfortable start to the day.

“It was 7 degrees when I went to work at 5 a.m.,” he said. “It was very uncomfortable, although I’m used to it since I used to live in Chicago.”

Conth said “a lot” of customers didn’t show up early in the morning, “and that was the only sad part. But now it’s picking up.”

“I prefer spring,” he said. “This is just crazy.”

In Chapel Hill, mail carrier Vickie Battle shuffled along Franklin Street Tuesday morning, her sunglasses and nose peeking through her heavy-duty hat.

She said she got her route instructions at 7:30 a.m. and she’d be walking along Franklin, Rosemary and Boundary streets delivering mail until 4 p.m. The post office employees got a safety talk, Battle said, about dressing in layers to combat temperatures in the teens.

“My feet are the coldest,” she said. “I wish I had more warm things to put on my toes.”

Battle knocked on the front door of a house on Franklin Street, handing the person inside her mail.

“She asked me if I wanted to come in, and I said ‘no’,” Battle said, continuing along the sidewalk. “I gotta keep moving. If I stop, it makes it harder to start.”

Forecasters promise the deep freeze will end soon, with gradual warming through the weekend. Sunday’s high is expected to be in the 60s.