The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

January 8, 2014

Ashtabula County is coping with bone-chilling cold

The big thaw is coming, and not a moment too soon for Ashtabula County residents shell-shocked by this week’s subzero weather.

After double-digit subzero temperatures Tuesday morning, conditions will begin to moderate today, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures will climb over the next few days, culminating with rain and highs in the low 40s on Saturday.

Still, strong winds expected today — despite a high expected to reach 20 degrees — will generate wind chills that feel like minus 5 degrees, according to the NWS.

A phenomenon called a polar vortex brought record-breaking cold to northeast Ohio and a large chunk of the eastern United States. The vortex easily broke several low temperature records for Jan. 7 across northern Ohio, and sent the thermometer plunging to minus 10 to minus 12 degrees at various parts of Ashtabula County by early Tuesday morning. Lows of 15 degrees below zero were reported in portions of nearby Geauga County.

Cleveland Hopkins Airport notched a low of minus 11 degrees, which easily broke the old Jan. 7 record of seven below zero. The coldest January temperature ever recorded at the airport was minus 20 degrees on Jan. 19, 1994, according to the NWS.

Compounding the problem were strong winds, sometimes topping 30 mph, that produced wind chills that exceeded minus 40 degrees. Schools, day-care centers,  service agencies and county government offices were closed because of the dangerous cold and wind chills. Ashtabula County Commissioners will reschedule their regular agenda meeting and work session for later in the week. All court hearings were also canceled and will be rescheduled for a later date.

County offices will re-open today at 8 a.m. Ashtabula City garbage collection will be delayed one day due to the frigid temperatures.

Isolated power outages occurred in the area on Tuesday, including blackouts that hit neighborhoods in Ashtabula around 1 a.m. Service was restored a short time later. By Tuesday afternoon, only a handful of county outages were documented on FirstEnergy’s website.

No serious medical problems owning to the cold were reported at Ashtabula County Medical Center, said spokesman John Broom. Information was not immediately available Tuesday from UH Conneaut and Geneva medical centers.

Mail carriers struggled to make their rounds in the bone-chilling conditions. In Conneaut, supervisor Tami Mongenel delivered hot chocolate to the nearly two dozen carriers on city and rural routes. Dealing with the brutal cold involves plenty of preparation, she said.

“(Carriers) are bundled in layers, wear face masks and have hand warmers,” Mongenel said. “They’re cold but they’re coping. We want them to be safe. We don’t want any heroes.”

Carriers are also having difficulty dealing with sidewalks and porch steps that aren’t shoveled, she said.

Others who had to venture out into the cold, including Domino’s Pizza delivery man James Eichele, said he dons extra clothing while on the job in sub-zero weather.

“It’s not real bad,” he said. “We’re extra busy, especially with school out.”

That means extra tips for every delivery, he said.

The cold also took a toll on some car and trucks. Dead battery complaints dominated the calls logged to the American Automobile Association on Wednesday morning, said Bevi Powell, spokeswoman for AAA East Central, based in Pittsburgh. Nearly 760 calls for service were logged in northeast Ohio between midnight and 10 a.m. Wednesday, she said.

“That’s two to three times our typical call volume,” Powell said.

Several shelters opened their doors Monday night and all day Tuesday to provide a warm place for the area’s homeless to sleep and have a hot meal. Shirley Hanna and her husband Elbert, who run the Lighthouse Harvest Foundation, opened the State Road Armory as a shelter Monday night in case anyone needed shelter.

Hanna said the shelter was staffed with five volunteers until 10 p.m. and she and her husband spent the night. “We didn’t have anyone coming in to stay,” she said.

Hanna said it was hard getting the word out about the shelter so volunteers even drove around to many of the usual locations homeless people are found to make sure no one was left out in the cold.

Hanna said a few people stopped in to bring blankets and some came to access the food pantry, Hanna said. Tuesday, a few people had come in for meals. The kitchen staff prepared hot chicken soup, she said.

Beginning next week, the Lighthouse Harvest Foundation will begin operating a soup kitchen. Hot meals will be served Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 2710 State Road.

“We just want people to know we are here to help in any way we can,” Hanna said.

The Samaritan House, 4125 Station Ave., is open and has room for residents who need shelter.

“We had one resident come yesterday,” a volunteer said. “Other than that it has been pretty quiet.”

At G.O. Ministries, quite a few people came in throughout (Monday) evening for food and shelter, but no one had to sleep overnight, said the Rev. John Salters, founder of the ministry.

“My son stayed the night in case anyone needed shelter,” he said. “We will stay open again tonight.”

Salters said G.O. Ministries is there to make a difference in people’s lives. They are offering food and shelter as temperatures are expected to dip below freezing.

If the forecast stays intact, local schools could resume classes today. For some districts, it will be their first session of 2014, thanks to the holidays. In the Conneaut school district, buses are prepped for cold weather use with heaters to warm up the diesel fuel, said Superintendent Kent Houston. School buildings are also inspected daily during cold snaps to ensure no ruptured pipes or other weather-related ills, he said.

Staff writers Mark Todd, Stacy Millberg and Shelley Terry contributed to this article


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