Schools, government offices close ahead of cold snap

Bundled against the cold, pedestrians and a sandwich shop delivery rider make their way under a sign proclaiming a balmy +7 degrees on Tuesday in downtown Lansing.

Schools, universities and government offices across Metro Detroit and the rest of Michigan plan to close Wednesday as a dangerous blast of arctic air bears down on the state.

With wind chills of between minus 25 degrees and minus 45 degrees predicted in some places over the next couple days, officials began announcing closure plans Tuesday.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer decided to close state offices Wednesday because of the predicted subzero temperatures. The Michigan House and state Senate have followed suit “due to the extreme weather,” said Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake. 

Most of Michigan's public universities will be closed Wednesday, including the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Wayne State, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, Grand Valley State, Michigan Tech and Oakland.

UM officials were the last of the group to cancel classes, issuing a statement after 3:30 p.m. saying "Due to extreme low temperatures and wind chill, the Ann Arbor campus has issued an emergency reduction in operations beginning tonight at 12 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30 and ending 7 a.m. Friday, Feb. 1."

The reduction in operations includes the cancellation of all classroom and laboratory instruction and extends to all noncritical services and operations. It does not apply to health system staff.

UM students created an online petition demanding the university close during harsh weather conditions. "A refusal to do so is classist and ableist, with disproportionate effects on workers, low income community members, and community members who are not able-bodied,” the petition on reads.

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Melissa Bunker, the parent of two college students — one at MSU and the other at UM Ann Arbor — said Tuesday both universities should cancel classes on Wednesday for the safety of all students.

Bunker’s 21-year-old son lives far from the East Lansing campus and relies on a bus to get to class, while her 19-year-old daughter lives in downtown Ann Arbor, closer to campus buildings.

But Bunker, a public relations professional from Grosse Pointe Woods, says she is worried about anyone being outside when temperatures are so brutal.

“It seems incongruous to ask kids to walk through the same weather that we are asking adults not to,” Bunker said. “I am watching everything online and I am concerned.”

Temperatures are forecast to plunge to minus-10 degrees Tuesday night, with a high of minus-2 and a low of minus-11 Wednesday and a high of 2 degrees and a low of minus-5 Thursday.

School districts including the Detroit Public Schools Community District, Utica Community Schools, Dearborn Public Schools and the Grosse Pointe Public School System announced they would be closed Wednesday because of the bitter cold and wind.

"We will continue to monitor the weather to determine the status of school Thursday," DPSCD said in a statement. 

Some districts, including the Port Huron public schools, have closed through Thursday.

"Due to our Governor declaring a State of Emergency and the National Weather Service’s Wind Chill Warning effective until 11:00 am Thursday, calling for temperatures of 35 degrees below zero, all Port Huron Schools are closed tomorrow, Wednesday 01.30.19 AND Thursday 01.31.19," the district said on its Facebook page Tuesday afternoon.

Lake Orion Community Schools superintendent Marion Ginopolis closed school for Wednesday using a video on Twitter

Officials with Detroit's 36th District Court said it will be closed Wednesday and Thursday. Court administrator Kelli Moore Owen cited the bitter cold and stiff winds forecast to hit the region starting Tuesday night.

“Our staff must park off-site and walk several blocks to get to work," she said in a statement. "Likewise, individuals who have business with the court must also walk several blocks from neighboring parking structures and lots to get to our building. 

"Many litigants also rely on public transportation," Owen said. "For those people, exposure to the frigid temperature is dangerous, and that was the main factor in deciding to close our court.”

The Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center will be closed to guests on Wednesday and may be closed on Thursday, zoo officials said Tuesday.

“Our staff will be working to ensure that the animals receive the same excellent care as always during this cold snap, but it is simply too cold for our guests to visit the Detroit Zoo or Belle Isle Nature Center,” said Scott Carter, chief life sciences officer for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS).

“Additional staff are on site all night when temps drop this low to make sure building systems function as they should and the animals are safe," he said.

Many animals at the zoo are especially adapted to cold weather, including the gray wolves, wolverines, bison, Japanese macaques, polar bears, arctic foxes and red pandas, zoo officials said.

"Certain cold-hardy animals — including wolverines, polar bears and wolves — will have access to the outdoors as they so choose; others will be cared for indoors. We have added radiant heaters to the yards for the fallow deer," said Patricia Mills Janeway, zoo spokeswoman.

The Detroit Zoo has rarely closed due to weather in its 90-year history, officials said. Most recently, the zoo was closed on Aug. 12, 2014, when record-breaking rainfall swept through southeast Michigan, causing widespread flooding.