By Cory Smith, Mike Taylor, Elisabeth Waldon and Curtis Wildfong
Mark Christensen would like to have a few words with whoever started the rumor about road commission employees not working Monday.
Christensen, the managing director for the Road Commission for Montcalm County, said he received several phone calls from people saying they heard workers weren’t out plowing the roads due to hydraulics freezing on the trucks.
“I wish I knew who started that rumor,” Christensen said. “I’d like to talk to them.”
In reality, road commission employees worked from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday and will be at it again today, albeit not until 5 a.m. Christensen is letting his workers catch an extra hour of sleep since all the schools are closed for the second day in a row in Montcalm County.
“We’re really in good shape countywide since the wind finally died down,” he said. “Probably about 80 percent of the gravel roads are done countywide, so if the wind doesn’t pick up again Tuesday we should be fine.”
‘Dangerously cold conditions’
According to the National Weather Service, today’s forecast calls for up to one inch of new snow and a high of 6 degrees in the Montcalm County area, with wind chill values as low as minus 30 and west winds gusting to 30 miles per hour. A hazardous weather warning remains in affect until 7 p.m. tonight.
“It will be unsafe to be outdoors through Tuesday for prolonged periods of time due to the extreme cold conditions,” the National Weather Service stated. “Frostbite can occur in 15 minutes. A wind chill warning is issued when a strong wind will combine with cold temperatures to create dangerously cold conditions for exposed skin. Those planning to venture outdoors should dress warmly, making sure that all exposed skin is covered.”
Wednesday will be slightly warmer with a high of 17 and wind chill values around minus 8. The “warming trend” will continue into the weekend with a high of 20 on Thursday, a high of 33 on Friday, a high of 36 on Saturday and a high of 35 on Sunday.
Warming centers available
In light of this week’s forecast, James Freed proactively set up warming centers last week at the village office in Lakeview and the city office in Stanton, both of which Freed manages. The warming centers will provide coffee, bottled water and — most importantly — heat to anyone who needs it.
“We’ve done this in the past,” Freed said. “Typically, in Stanton at least, we see people coming in in the afternoons. It gives people a place they can come if they’re having furnace issues or something like that, a place to go while they wait for the repair man. It’s actually so cold that the cold itself is causing problems with some peoples’ heaters.”
Freed said although no one has used the warming centers yet, he plans to keep them open through Wednesday and then reevaluate depending on the weather forecast.
“We’ll see what it’s like,” he said of the weather. “It’s pretty unbelievable right now.”
Meanwhile, there are no warming centers set up in Ionia County, even though all municipal offices were shut down Monday due to the winter weather.
Ionia County outlook
Ionia County Administrator Stephanie Hulburt said the decision to shut down county government offices was made after Ionia County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Julie Calley contacted the Ionia County Road Commission, Ionia County Sheriff’s Office and courthouse judges.
Hulburt said she believes county offices will be open today; however, there are no plans to open any warming centers unless the county experiences a power loss.
Belding City Manager Meg Mullendore decided to close Belding City Hall, as well as the library and the city’s Dial-A-Ride public transportation service after she heard Ionia County offices were closing.
“Because the roads are not the best and it is extremely cold out, my rationale was to keep people from needing to come to city hall,” she explained. “Our sensitive population, the elderly, don’t need to be subjected to this extreme cold. Just shoveling the snow and keeping our steps free of snow, it becomes a real challenge.”
Mullendore said she hasn’t received any requests to open a warming shelter in the city.
“We have to be really careful with that because if you go open a warming shelter past city business hours, it becomes a shelter,” she said. “I don’t know if we as a city have appropriate facilities for that purpose, but we wouldn’t have an issue partnering with a church or any of the schools.”
Mullendore said Belding will probably follow Ionia County’s lead about whether to close government buildings again today. As of press time, Ionia County officials were not planning on shutting down services today.
Animals need cold weather care too
People aren’t the only ones trying to stay warm as temperatures plummet. Farmers are working to try to protect their livestock from the frigid air.
Mike Rasmussen, a Day Township dairy farmer, said cows do have some built-in response systems when mercury falls.
“The cows will be helping themselves a little by eating more to increase their metabolism, which keeps them warm,” he said.
However, Rasmussen takes additional precautions to protect his herd of about 850 cows.
First and foremost is preventing frostbite, which is common among dairy cows during the cold, especially if they have been milked recently. Because milk can potentially freeze on a cow’s udder, a special winter-formulated teat dip has been developed to prevent freezing.
Another important step is keeping livestock out of the wind. Although Rasmussen has naturally ventilated barns as part of an open design, he closes up the barns as much as possible during cold weather.
Even the cows’ drinking water needs special care. On Rasmussen’s farm, each one of his barns has automatic drinkers, which can still freeze despite built-in heating systems. Rasmussen and his workers check the drinkers several times per day to make sure they’re thawed.
With all these precautions, Rasmussen said it’s “all hands on deck” during such cold weather.
“It just makes everything harder, harder on cows, harder on equipment and harder on morale, “ he said. “Proper preparations are the key.”