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"Don't let the cold surprise you:" Cold snap will cause icy conditions

Prepping cars, homes, shelters ahead of extreme cold
"Don't let the cold surprise you:" Cold snap will cause icy conditions
Posted at 1:44 AM, Feb 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-13 04:01:06-05

SOUTHERN COLORADO — Colorado is no stranger to the cold, but the record low temperatures this weekend are giving the state a run for it's money.

One of KOAA's meteorologists, Alex O'Brien, explained why this storm is making national headlines. "It's going all the way into the deep south. It's a really powerful storm, so pretty much everyone is going to be impacted by it, so everyone's talking about it too," said O'Brien.

O'Brien is a native Coloradan, and grew up in Greeley. She said these temperatures are unique. "The reason why this storm is going to be so unusual is because the last time we saw these negative ten degree lows was in the winter of 2016 and 2017. So, it's been at least four years," said O'Brien.

The lowest temperature of all time in Colorado Springs is -27 degrees, and for Pueblo is -31. Those were recorded in 1951. "We're seeing less and less of these really extreme cold events in the state than we used to in the past," said O'Brien.

O'Brien said this current arctic air mass is coming from the east, and cold air like this is really dense and shallow, so it oozes into the plains and cannot really get over the mountains. "So, the mountains are a boundary keeping it more mild there for now," said O'Brien, describing why we are seeing colder temperatures in areas like Colorado Springs and Pueblo than in the mountains.

If you must get out over the weekend, O'Brien says to wear three to four layers of clothing, and make sure to have something covering both your face and head. However, O'Brien said she would not recommend going outside this weekend. "Heading up to the mountains to go ski is going to be horrendous. Because we're expecting one to two feet of snow in the mountains. It's not going to be quite as frigid there, but certainly cold enough that you can get frostbite or hypothermia, even if you're skiing... Especially overnight, if our temperature's at -10, if you only have just the slightest breeze, those wind chills will be in the -20s and the -30s. So, you can get frostbite within 15 to 30 minutes," said O'Brien.

Frostbite and hypothermia signs and symptoms
A list of signs and symptoms that could indicate hypothermia or frostbite.

"Don't let the cold surprise you."
Alex O'Brien, KOAA Meteorologist

O'Brien said if the system were a bit warmer, we would probably only get a couple of inches of snow. "If this was a warmer system, we would have that heavier, wet snow. And that wet snow kind of compacts and it doesn't accumulate as much. But because it's so cold, we'll have really, really light, low water content snow. And it's going to stack up a lot even though it's not really supplying much moisture," explained O'Brien, who also said several inches of snow will be here by Sunday morning.

O'Brien said this winter has been mild overall, and it will still probably be a warmer than average season despite this cold snap.

Trent Urban is the president and owner of the WireNut Home Services, and said the most common mistake homeowners make before winter storms is a lack of preparation. Urban said his team has to keep up with an abundance of service calls when it gets cold. They must prioritize the calls, responding to those with emergency situations first. "When a cold snap like this comes along, just like for us, it puts additional strain on our bodies if we're out, it puts that same strain on your heating and plumbing and electrical systems. So, to get ahead of it, just take a look around at your home, and see what is it that's been giving me fits? Get that fixed, because when you need it, you need it," said Urban.

Homeowners should be very aware of any plumbing issues when temperatures drop dramatically. "Make sure that your hoses are disconnected. Any water lines that are outside aren't exposed with water in them, because that will expand and burst. Your sprinklers should have already been drained by now, so hopefully that was done, otherwise that could be a problem area," said Urban.

People should also note that overrunning a furnace can be problematic. "If you do, then it typically is going to break when it's needed the most. And that would be when it's extremely cold. So, let it run at standard temperatures, don't over do it, and if it hasn't been maintained, then now's one of those times when it really needs to be done," said Urban.

Then, there are those without a home, who will have to find a place to stay during this extreme cold. Springs Rescue Mission has a capacity of 450 people, with layers of safety protocols to ensure everyone has a safe experience. Over the last few months, the mission has averaged around 300 people a night. They do expect that number to increase this weekend. "Homelessness is 365 days, not just a few months. And in Colorado, our temperatures can be really hot, and they can be really, really cold. So, it is a difficult state to be homeless," said Travis Williams, the chief development officer for Springs Rescue Mission.

Springs Rescue Mission has not hit their capacity in almost two years, when they sheltered around 475 people.

Williams said winter can mean life or death for those living on the streets. He said he is commonly asked how people can help personally, and said that can mean encouraging a person to go to the mission, even buying them an Uber ride or bus pass to get there. Williams also said they have a Good Samaritan Sponsor program, where people can donate for a bed at the shelter.

For those who do plan on getting out this weekend in the extreme cold, preparing their car is key. Skyler McKinley of AAA Colorado said the pandemic could exacerbate the issue. "It has been so long since we've had a cold snap like this, and this is also going on as folks cars might have been sitting because they haven't been driving as a function of the pandemic. So, before you even get on the roads, know that your car might not be ready for what you're going to see out there," said McKinley.

McKinley said car batteries that are more than three to five years old may not start in these cold conditions. He also said it's important to pay attention to the tire pressure light when it comes on, because icing could be an issue with this storm. "We're also going to have icing conditions. And if your tires are bad, if you're driving too fast, if you're not aware of the conditions, you're going to make it a lot harder to get to your destination safely... You should be slowing down. You should be doubling the following distance you would normally have behind cars in front of you. You also should know where ice is going to be. Ice is going to be as you're driving off the line at a stoplight. Be very careful going up hills. Be very careful changing lanes on I-25 or I-70, because that middle area is where there's going to be patches of ice," said McKinley.

McKinley also said that four wheel drive vehicles do not mean someone can go faster when driving in winter conditions.

McKinley said it is important to pack a bag with everything a person could need if they are stranded on the side of a road during a snowstorm.