A late day sun appears to add warmth to the air at Swan Lake State Park Sunday, but strong winds from the northwest pushed windchill readings into the 40 below zero range according the National  Weather Service.
A late day sun appears to add warmth to the air at Swan Lake State Park Sunday, but strong winds from the northwest pushed windchill readings into the 40 below zero range according the National Weather Service.
January 6, 2014

Tom Heithoff's arms and legs were stiff this morning as he delivered the first of about 500 batches of mail to Carroll homes and businesses.

But it wasn't the sub-zero temperatures that kept his limbs from moving - it was the layers upon layers of clothing.

Four layers of shirts, four layers of long-johns and pants, three pairs of socks.

Hand warmers. Toe warmers.

And a tight hood that hugged his face.

The 27-year-old Carroll man has been on the job for about three months, and it's been a frigid three months, he said.

"I'm not a cold-weather person," Heithoff said as he set out on-foot for about seven hours of door-to-door delivery.

Temperatures in Carroll dipped to about -17 degrees Fahrenheit overnight and were expected to reach a high of -7 today. The National Weather Service warned that winds of up to 30 mph would make it feel like -40 degrees.

All area school districts cancelled classes and activities today, and some have already planned late starts for Tuesday, if not another round of cancellations. The overnight low is predicted to be -12 degrees.

"Everything is twice as slow this morning," said Jeff Schulte, of Carroll, who started hauling trash for Ray's Refuse at 12:30 a.m.

He stepped outside of the warm cab of his garbage truck about 9:30 a.m. on the west edge of town and threw open the lid of an apartment complex garbage bin.

The truck's hydraulic system whined as it lifted and flipped the bin into the back of the truck.

Earlier this morning, Schulte hauled the truck with two other workers clinging to its back who jumped off to grab trash from Carroll homes for more than two hours.

"Those guys had it bad," he said. "They took turns with me up here in the cab to warm up."

The overnight cold strained home furnaces that ran non-stop to keep up. Drees Plumbing and Heating has fielded several calls to replace furnaces that failed.

"Furnaces in this area aren't designed for -15-degree temperatures," owner Howie Drees said. "Even if they are designed properly, they're not keeping up once it's 5-below."

Drees said he pulled some of his workers from other jobs to help fix the home furnaces to help prevent water pipes from freezing.

"A lot of people may come home today after work and find that their furnaces stopped," he said.

Frigid temperatures often spur residents to use space heaters and wood stoves to keep warm, which increases the risk of fires, Carroll Fire Chief Greg Schreck said. His department responded to one minor fire Sunday night on East Eighth Street near Graham Park, but it didn't appear to be related to the weather.

"We're just very fortunate that was all we had," he said. "People have to pay particular attention to the heaters and stoves. Just use extra precautions."

Nearly every school district in a 30-mile radius of Carroll canceled classes today. Audubon Community Schools was not scheduled to be back in session today.

"We always err on the safety of the students," said Carroll Community School District transportation director Tom Reiter, who added that the current temperatures are the lowest he has seen since his first year in the transportation department in 1996. "You don't want to put kids in any kind of harm's way."

Superintendent Rob Cordes made the official call to cancel school today between 10:30 and 11 a.m. Sunday.

"With a forecast of extreme cold and wind, there is a fear of buses quitting out in the country and things of that nature," Cordes said. "Obviously that's one of the reasons we pulled the pin today."

Reiter said that the wind, in particular, makes it difficult to operate the district's fleet of diesel buses in sub-zero temperatures.

"You can generally always get them started, but it's hard to get the (engine) temperature up to operating temperature to keep it going," he said.

District busses run between 27 and 30 routes each day. Under extremely cold conditions, bus drivers leave the buses running all day, rather than shutting them off and trying to restart them for afternoon routes. Drivers have not had to do that yet this school year, Reiter said.

Though there is not a hard-and-fast rule on when to cancel school due to the cold, Cordes said, the risk of problems increase when wind-chill factors reach between 25 and 30 degrees below zero.

"When it gets this cold, I don't think it matters if a school is rural or not," said Cordes, pointing to many Des Moines schools that canceled classes today as well. "They still have kids at bus stops, waiting for buses, things like that."

Cordes said there will likely be a two-hour delay Tuesday morning, but that the final decision on whether to cancel classes will be made sometime this afternoon.

"It's supposed to warm up tomorrow," Cordes said. "Today it wasn't, so we knew two hours wouldn't do any good."

If students go to school tomorrow, Reiter said, they need to dress warm for the cold temperatures, even if they are riding the bus. No buses have broken down yet this year, but it is always a possibility, Reiter said.

Carroll County Sheriff Doug Bass said there were no reports of broken-down vehicles on county roads and highways overnight, but that his deputies are prepared to help if such situations arise.

"We're ready to go all the time," he said. "We've got bags with blankets and water to help."

Carroll Public Works Director Randy Krauel said it's fortunate that no snowstorm accompanied the cold.

"It's hard on our equipment and difficult to get ice off the roads in these temperatures," he said. "The worst-case scenario for us right now would be broken water mains. When temperatures get this cold this quickly, the ground shifts as it freezes, and there's a possibility of breaking mains. That, of course, during this type of weather, is very difficult to repair."

The traffic signals at the intersection of U.S. Highways 30 and 71 were offline for about an hour this morning when a truck struck a power pole at Pepsi Beverages just north of the intersection, fire chief Schreck said.

"The wires were down in the Pepsi parking lot there," he said. "There was no real threat to motorists. We just kept people away."