Reasons to be cheerful, fearful, of the big chill

Comments Comments Print Print
Frank Schultz
Saturday, January 4, 2014

With impending cold so severe the National Weather Service calls it life-threatening, The Gazette has the temerity to ask: Good thing or bad thing?

Seriously, can anything good come of cold like this?

The best minds at The Gazette came together this past week to come up with some pretty good reasons to like the cold.

Turns out, however, that life is not as simple as we might like to believe.

First, let's consider the cold. The National Weather Service says the air that will enter the state Sunday is “dangerously cold, and will become life-threatening Sunday night through Tuesday morning.”

The Janesville area will see wind chills of 20 to 25 below zero late Saturday night and into Sunday. Then it gets colder.

Predictions indicate wind chills could reach minus 55 by Monday morning and again Tuesday morning.

“Only slight improvement is expected during the day Monday and Tuesday,” the weather service said Friday.

Yikes. Enough of that. Here is our feeble attempt to come up with some warm thoughts to get you through next week.

-- The cold will kill earwigs and other undesirable insects, so we'll have fewer of them in spring and summer.

Not exactly. Earwigs are snug beneath 8 inches of snow, so they are not affected, said Phil Pellitteri, insect expert with the UW Extension.

However, if temperatures dive to around 25 below, gypsy moth eggs might not survive, Pellitteri said.

Invading insects from the south also might have a hard time of it. Pellitteri said mild winters have allowed various bugs to extend their ranges northward, but this harsh cold wave could deal them a blow.

Example: Temperatures around minus 15 affect the euonymus caterpillar.

Much like tent caterpillars, these wigglers hatch in the spring and defoliate trees and bushes, leaving material that looks like spider webs all over the plants, Pellitteri said.

On the other hand, honeybee hives will certainly lose members, as they typically do in winter. The question is how many bees, Pellitteri said. Colder weather means fewer survivors.

Much depends on how much honey is available for bees to eat so they can generate heat, Pellitteri said. If the winter warms up in the weeks ahead, the impact might not be so great. But if this weather continues, bees could take a bigger-than-usual hit.

-- The cold makes good ice for fishing and ice skating.

OK, sure. The ice is getting thicker all over, even at the city of Janesville's ice rink at Traxler Park.

The city tried a new method of forming ice, spending $45,000 to install pipes that add water from beneath the ice sheet a few years ago. The method was supposed to create a deep ice sheet that would survive warm spells.

The rink refused to freeze this year, despite the cold. The city has turned off the new system and went back to the old method, having parks employees spray water with a hose, said Cullen Slapak, assistant parks director.

The rink is ready for skaters, but the Friends of Traxler Park, who operate a warming house and distribute free rental skates, will not be doing so until this cold snap passes, because of concerns about exposure to extreme cold, Slapak said.

-- The cold reduces crime.

Maybe not. Janesville police and the Rock County Sheriff's office both did a quick data crunch this week and found no real difference between their workloads in the summer versus the winter.

Commander Troy Knudson of the sheriff's office ran an analysis of calls for service, comparing last July with December. Deputies were called for help 5,228 times in July and 5,219 in December.

“Who would've expected it would've been that close?” Knudson said.

Knudson said he was surprised. He also suggested that his quick data crunch might not be a final answer to the question.

Janesville Deputy Police Chief John Olsen said domestic disturbances—frequent occurrences all year long—might be reported more often in warm months, when windows are open and neighbors can hear.

But during the cold, people are close together indoors for longer periods of time, which might precipitate more domestic difficulties, Olsen speculated.

Olsen said he's hopeful next weeks fierce cold will slow down if not freeze criminal activity.

-- Colder weather means it's less likely to snow.

Some people like the snow, of course, but it's a nuisance to those who need to clear it or drive in it.

However, it's not the cold that keeps it from snowing, said Bob McMahon, meteorologist with the National Weather Service at Sullivan.

Colder air cannot hold as much moisture as warmer air, McMahon said, but the edges of extreme cold air masses can collide with warm, moist air, producing hefty snows. So surface temperatures can be very cold, while moist air aloft can bring a lot of snow.

What is happening next week is an Arctic high pressure center. High pressure is typically sunny, so no snow.

So it's the air pressure, not the cold, that keeps snow away, McMahon said.

-- The cold gives us an opportunity to practice using jumper cables.

OK, this is not an advantage, but we thought you should know, and we wanted to remind you that if you travel, jumper cables are one item among many you should pack in your car in case of breakdowns.

Here is the safe way to do it, from homefrontemergency.com, which says the first step is to consult your owner's manual:

--Pull a car with a charged battery next to the car with the dead battery, situating the two batteries as close together but without allowing the two cars to touch.

--Turn off both engines, pull out the keys, put both cars in park—or in first gear if they have stick shifts—engage the emergency brakes, and open the hoods.

--Attach a red-handled jumper cable clamp to the positive terminal—the one with the plus sign—of the charged battery.

--Connect the other red-handled clamp to the positive terminal of the dead battery.

--Attach the neighboring black/negative cable to the car with the dead battery. Clamp it to any metal, unpainted part of the vehicle's frame.

--Ground the other black/negative cable on the charging car, as described in the previous step. Be careful, as a small spark may be produced.

--Try to start the car that has the dead battery.

--Re-adjust the red/positive clamp of the jumper cable on the dead car if there is no response. Try re-clamping it to the terminal or turning it for a better connection.

--Once the dead car is running, remove the clamps of the jumper cable one at a time in reverse order.

--Allow the jump-started car to run for half an hour in order to charge the battery. It will charge whether driving or idling.

-- The cold gives you bragging rights.

You can tell your friends that even though the high temperature was minus 14, you still did all the regular stuff of life.

Even in this case, you only have bragging rights if your friends and relatives live in warmer climes. If they're in Wausau or Duluth, they'll just laugh at you.


Comments Comments Print Print