Weather

Harsh cold, dangerous wind chills persist in Wichita area

Cora Diehl walks to her job Wednesday at the State Office building downtown. Wichita woke up shivering Wednesday, with blowing snow, harsh north winds and wind chills several degrees below zero. (Jan. 7, 2015)
Cora Diehl walks to her job Wednesday at the State Office building downtown. Wichita woke up shivering Wednesday, with blowing snow, harsh north winds and wind chills several degrees below zero. (Jan. 7, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

Bitter cold and dangerous wind chills will keep Wichita shivering Thursday as winter’s icy grip shows little sign of easing.

With temperatures near zero and north winds gusting to 20 mph expected Thursday morning in Wichita, exposed skin could suffer frostbite in perhaps 30 minutes, according to the National Weather Service.

“It’s not going to be fun,” Scott Smith, a meteorologist with the weather service, said Wednesday. “People need to bundle up.”

Wind chills could drop as low as the negative teens in the Wichita area Thursday, forecasters said, even as temperatures begin to rise later in the day. South winds will be gusty, topping 30 mph at times.

The bitter chill has homeless people packing the winter overflow shelter on North Market in downtown Wichita, officials said Wednesday.

“When it gets cold like this, we are very, very concerned,” said Anne Corriston, executive director at Inter-Faith Ministries, which has the lead role in overseeing the shelter. “We want to make sure that nobody is on the streets.”

At least 80 men have spent the night every day this week, Corriston said, and one night saw more than 90. On cold nights like Wichita has endured this week, “every square inch of flat surface is covered” with men spending the night, she said.

“It just about fills that whole building,” she said.

Wesley Medical Center has treated several people who slipped and fell on ice this week, spokeswoman Susan Burchill said. A handful of those falls resulted in fractures, she said.

Via Christi Hospital St. Francis treated two patients for falls on Wednesday, spokeswoman Maria Loving said.

Light snow and harsh winds created some visibility issues for the morning commute Wednesday, authorities said, although only a handful of accidents were reported. No serious injuries occurred, they said.

Some light drifting was reported as the sun rose, but only a trace of snow was officially recorded in Wichita.

“Unfortunately, this is kind of normal for January,” National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Jakub said.

The good news, he said, is that Wednesday should be the coldest day of the week. The bad news is a reinforcing shot of cold air will arrive Thursday night and push highs from the low 30s to the 20s again and lows into single digits.

Temperatures won’t get above the mid-30s for the next several days, Jakub said.

With the bitter cold persisting, officials urged residents to pay especially close attention to seniors and pets.

People older than 65 account for nearly half of all hypothermia deaths, with poorly heated homes the leading cause of hypothermia. Officials encourage those over 65 to keep the thermostat no lower than 65 degrees and to wear multiple layers of loose clothing.

People going outside should make sure the head is covered, because that’s where much of a body’s heat is lost.

Pets should be kept inside during particularly cold weather. If having them in the house is not an option, provide a warm, solid outdoors shelter against the wind.

Outdoor walks should not be as long as they usually are in nicer weather. Short-haired pets do not tolerate the cold as well as long-haired animals or those with thicker coats do, so pet sweaters are a good idea for outdoor activity.

Clean paws of any salt or sand that may have accumulated during walks. Also check for ice accumulation or injuries from stepping on ice or other sharp objects.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @StanFinger.

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