Higher temperatures mean potholes, potential decline in illnesses

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Temperatures in the mid-30s are expected this week along with snow and rain before another cold snap works its way into the area. Experts explain what the thaw could mean in terms of health, streets, and flooding.


Even though this week's temperatures will be higher, there is no need to worry about flooding, one National Weather Service hydrologist said.

In the coming days the weather will fluctuate from above and below freezing, making flooding unlikely, Brian Hahn, a service hydrologist, said.

 “It looks like there will be a slow melt,” Hahn said. “Some of the snow will melt and not a lot of it. Usually it takes more than that to start being concerned.”

Temperatures need to stay well above freezing for several days accompanied by warm rain before thinking about flooding, Hahn said. But the weather will not be warm enough for that.

There is between nine inches to 12 inches of snow on the Rock River, if that snow were to melt it would result in 1.6 inches to 2.7 inches of water behind, according to National Weather Service data. But this week's warmer weather won't be warm enough to cause that, Hahn said.

Ice dams:

Large amounts of snow followed by freezing temperatures can lead to ice dams, and there is a lot of ice on the Rock River.

You can't predict ice dams and potential flooding from ice dams, Hahn said.

“We never really know about that,” Hahn said. “It's something that can't be predicted.”


Warmer weather can mean a decline in illnesses, one local doctor said.

There is some misconception about the change from frigid to warm weather causing more viral illness, said Dr. Justin Frey of Mercy North Clinic. If anything, the opposite is true, he said.

Flu season peaks in January and February, and the number of viral illnesses is greater during the colder months, he said.

“The most likely reason for this is that people tend to stay indoors and in closer proximity to each other, kids are still in school and people (are) still going to work, spreading the virus around,” Frey said in an email. “There also is some evidence that cold, dry air allows the viruses to live longer and transmit easier.”

When it warms up, people tend to be outside more, kids are out of school in the summer, and the overall incidence of viral illness starts to drop, he said.

Doctors still see plenty of “flu-like” and common cold viruses through spring, Frey said, so people should continue with regular hand washing, avoid others who are sick and stay up-to-date on vaccinations.

Mood changer

This winter has been one for the record books, and it's taking a toll emotionally, mentally, and psychologically on people, said Shilagh Mirgain, a UW-Health psychologist.

About 10-20 percent of people have experienced what Mirgain calls the “winter blues,” a seasonal affective disorder where people experience a loss of interest in things they enjoy, sleep deprivation, fatigue, and feel down.

The warmer weather will help give people the push they need to make it through the rest of the winter.

“It's a hint of spring and great reminder that spring is hopefully around the corner,” Mirgain said. “We know that warmth and sunlight can boost our energy levels, and boost our moods. That's why it is helpful to get outdoors when it's nicer this week.”

Pesky potholes

Potholes will start popping up with this week's higher temperatures, and drivers should beware, said John Whitcomb, operations director.

 “Particularly this week, things will start loosening up, and the city will start seeing more potholes developing,” Whitcomb said.

“We're making plans for that. It's really going to start coming to a head as the temperatures start to warm.”

Whitcomb said residents could call the city services department at 755-3110 with pothole locations.

“We want to know where they are so we can respond,” Whitcomb said.

City workers already know Randall Avenue between Sherman and Mount Zion avenues is especially bad. That street was due to be resurfaced last year but was deferred until this year because more extensive reconstruction is needed, Whitcomb said.

 “We're going to pay particular attention there as things begin to warm,” Whitcomb said.

Crews can temporarily patch potholes in the colder weather.

 “Putting anything down is better than putting nothing in when you're the person driving over it,” Whitcomb said.

Lasting fixes must wait until summer or fall.

“It's going to be a good year for potholes,” Whitcomb said.

“Or I guess a bad year.”

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