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Deep cold, wind chill are storm's top risks

Snapping at the heels of a fresh blanket of snow, bitter temperatures and brutal wind chills promise to make today miserable for much of Kansas. Although as much as 6 inches was expected in northeast Kansas, forecasters say the storm's most threatening components are low temperatures and high winds.

"This is one of the colder shots we've had in a long time," said Jim Caruso, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita.

Wind chills by this morning will be minus 15 to minus 20 in Wichita, he said, and they'll persist well below zero all day and into Friday.

"I'd hate to be waiting for the bus over the next couple of days," Caruso said.

USD 259 officials met at 2 p.m. Wednesday to discuss how to respond to the bitterly cold weather and will make a decision early this morning on whether to have school.

"We're monitoring the situation," district spokeswoman Susan Arensman said.

State and local officials urged residents not to take these conditions lightly.

"If you're going to be outside, be very prepared," said Brian Katan, an emergency medicine specialist at Via Christi Regional Medical Center. "It's key not to get wet. If they get wet, that will greatly increase the heat loss that goes on."

It's particularly important to keep the feet, hands and head well-covered, Katan said.

Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, Kansas Division of Emergency Management director and adjutant general, said residents should plan ways "to survive the worst-case scenario in your car or home."

The state's emergency operations center was activated Wednesday and will be monitoring conditions throughout the cold snap, which isn't expected to begin easing significantly until this weekend.

Some parts of the state could see wind chills of minus 35, state emergency management officials warned.

Those predictions use the updated wind chill chart. Based on a conversion chart provided by the National Weather Service, a wind chill of minus 19 on the new chart is comparable to minus 40 on the chart used up until 2001.

A wind chill advisory has been issued until noon Friday for the Wichita area and until Friday evening for northern Kansas.

High temperatures in the Wichita area today and Friday may not reach double digits.

While some may dismiss the cold temperatures as nothing to be concerned about, KWCH meteorologist Merril Teller said, "People can't ignore the wind. You don't even have to go outside to realize the wind is a problem. You can hear it."

North winds will be steady at about 20 mph, with gusts into the low 30 mph, forecasters say.

Along with wind and cold, about an inch of snow was expected by this morning in parts of south-central Kansas. The National Weather Service cautioned that strong winds and blowing snow could reduce visibility for travelers.

Lows tonight will drop below zero in Wichita and much of eastern and northern Kansas.

Winds should ease on Friday, reducing the wind chill, but forecasters say it will be Sunday before temperatures rebound to readings near or above the freezing mark.

"This is looking like the coldest temperatures since 1990, and maybe since the mid-'80s, depending on how much longer it lasts," said Mike Smith, CEO for WeatherData Inc., a Wichita-based subsidiary of AccuWeather.

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