Michigan House panel considers ban on mobile phone use while driving

Bitter cold to grip Metro Detroit all week

Charles E. Ramirez, Candice Williams, and Francis X. Donnelly

Bundle up, hunker down and settle in, Metro Detroit: It's going to be a long, cold week.

How cold?

We'll shiver with single-digit or subzero lows every day through Friday, and the mercury won't break 20 degrees until Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

That follows a bitter start to the week that saw back-to-back lows of minus-9 degrees at Detroit Metro Airport, tying the record lows for Feb. 15 and 16. Monday's high was just 8 degrees.

And after the mercury rises to a relatively toasty 19 degrees Tuesday, another shot of arctic air will plunge temperatures to as low as 10-below on Thursday, the weather service said.

Commuters, outdoor workers and others are steeling themselves against the season's chilliest temperatures.

"It's awful," said Michael Kowalski, 64, of Hamtramck. "I hate cold weather, but you do what you have to do."

The harsh cold is keeping auto repair shops hopping with calls from stranded motorists, and homeless shelters full of the less fortunate, seeking refuge from the dangerous conditions.

At Michigan Auto Repair Center on Wyoming in Detroit, manager George Massad said the deep freeze has been a bonanza for business.

"The colder it is the better," he said. "We're super busy."

Massad said he's seen a lot of "no starts, hard starts," with an average of five to 10 cars a day being towed to the garage.

Motorists aren't only having trouble with vehicles that won't start. Some have damaged their cars by running over objects covered by snow, he said.

"They'll run into a parking block," Massad said. "One guy ran over a bicycle."

Susan Hiltz, a spokeswoman for AAA Michigan, said the number of calls to the auto club for roadside assistance Monday was up more than 150 percent from the same day last week.

"Over 50 percent are for battery charge service," she said.

Normally in mid-February, high temperatures average 35, and the typical low is 20.

Yet NWS meteorologist Mike Richter said the current, prolonged deep freeze isn't unusual for Michigan this time of year.

"It's an environment we don't see very often, but we typically see one or two surges of arctic air come in throughout the winter," he said. "It's no different this year. We're just currently set up in a pattern that keeps bringing air from the Arctic down into the continental 48."

Some parts of Michigan had it even worse than the Detroit area. Temperatures bottomed out Monday morning at 26 below zero in Port Huron, 25 below in Lapeer and 24 below in the Tuscola County community of Caro, the weather service said.

Ice also has formed over close to 94 percent of Lake Erie, according to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

Agencies that help the homeless were working Monday to keep people safe in the dangerously frigid temperatures. The Salvation Army extended hours at some of its 15 Detroit warming centers Monday evening.

"Of course we've been through weather like this before, but anytime it gets cold like this or snows, we get more concerned about people's safety," said Bill Goodwill, director of the Salvation Army's Denby Center for Children & Family Services in Detroit, a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week shelter for women and children.

Monday evening, 50 residents ate a warm meal inside the facility's cafeteria and expressed relief to be out of the cold.

Cheryl Singleterry, 55, gave thanks for shelter against the elements as she enjoyed a supper of baked chicken and potatoes.

"It's good we're not outside," she said. "It's hard to keep warm."

Her tablemate, Brenda Pace, knew what it was like to fend for herself on a day like Monday.

Once stuck outside during a freezing spell, she sought solace inside a McDonald's. When workers eventually kicked her out, she begged strangers for money to allow her to buy something, allowing her to return to the fast-food restaurant.

"It's too cold out," said Pace, 54. "It's not good to be out there."

Several tables away, two youngsters dug into some Jell-O — but they couldn't decide whether it was cherry or strawberry.

Damesha Eiland, 10, said she took advantage of the time indoors to paint her fingernails.

"It's too cold," she said. "A little kid can get sick."

Her brother, Dernard, 8, was bashful, saying little, but wrapping his jacket around his head.

Besides providing shelter, the Salvation Army's Coats for Kids program is trying to make sure anyone who needs a coat, hat and gloves has them, Goodwill said. Also, its Bed and Bread trucks continue to travel across the area to take food and blankets to the homeless.

In Taylor, city officials opened a warming center at the Taylor Recreation Center, 22805 Goddard near Pardee, after as many as 1,500 homes and businesses lost power Monday.

Randi Berris, a spokeswoman for the energy company, said the power outage didn't appear to have been weather-related and was resolved by mid-afternoon.

Berris said the energy company is reminding its employees who are working outdoors to repair electric or gas lines to take precautions against the cold.

"They're told they should warm up in their trucks whenever they feel the need," she said.

Managers also are making sure employees working outdoors at power plants are rotating to have the opportunity to warm up indoors, she said.

Area hospitals are urging anyone going outside to protect against frostbite and hypothermia.

Sarah Collica, a spokeswoman for the Detroit Medical Center, said its hospitals treated at least three cases of frostbite and one case of hypothermia over the weekend. She also said the hospitals have seen a number of slip-and-fall injuries.

Frostbite is an injury caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues. It usually appears on the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin — skin that's exposed to cold, windy weather.

Hypothermia is a condition that happens when a human body loses heat faster than it can make it. It's usually caused by exposure to cold weather or immersion in cold water.


(313) 222-2058

Shawn D. Lewis, Tom Greenwood and the Associated Press contributed.

Extended forecast

Tuesday: Scattered light snow showers after 11 a.m. Highs of 17 to 21. Wind chills of minus-6.

Tuesday night: Partly cloudy with lows of 4 to 8.

Wednesday: Cloudy with highs of 12 to 16. Chance of light snow 40 percent. Wind chills of minus-6.

Wednesday night: Cloudy with a low of minus-6.

Thursday: Partly cloudy highs of 7 to 11.

Thursday night: Clear with lows of minus-8 to minus-14 degrees.

Friday: Mostly sunny with a high of 9 to 13.

Friday night: Partly cloudy with lows of 6 to 10.