Arctic cold that killed 2 lingers in state
A record-breaking arctic blast that led to at least two deaths in Metro Detroit, snapped aging water mains and brought classes, government offices and even mail to a halt could last at least one more day.
Michigan was among the 22 states hit by the polar vortex that saw temperatures dip below zero Wednesday, including shattering National Weather Service records standing more than 60 years.
The mercury was expected to top out in the single digits in Metro Detroit on Thursday, extending the extreme cold that has up-ended routines across the region and prompted unprecedented measures. The weather service has extended its wind chill advisory for the area from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday.
Thursday morning, Ironwood in the Upper Peninsula held the coldest temperatures in the state at minus 26. Drummond Island, Menominee, and Iron Mountain, all in the U.P. each measured minus 20. The highest temperature was at Harbor Springs in the upper portion of the Lower Peninsula at 5 degrees.
In a rare move, the U.S. Postal Service suspended mail delivery Wednesday in parts or all of several Midwest states including Michigan, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. Mail service won't be restored in Michigan until Friday, officials said.
The region's major gas and electric suppliers, DTE Energy Co., Consumers Energy Co., and SEMCO, announced they have temporarily suspended shutoffs due to the freezing temperatures.
"With the extreme weather it’s vitally important that Michiganders stay safe and warm,” said Madhu Anderson, deputy director of the Michigan Agency for Energy. “If anyone has trouble paying their utility bills, there are a number of options available to them, from community service agencies to low-income assistance by utilities. We urge those in need to access these critical services by calling either 211 or your local utility provider.”
Consumers Energy also asked customers to use less natural gas to heat their homes following an explosion Wednesday morning at a compressor station in Macomb County. No injuries were reported. The Consumers facility fire was contained within 1 ½ hours, utility officials said. The cause remained under investigation, but involved equipment, they said.
Elsewhere, the cold proved fatal.
A 70-year-old man not dressed for the weather was found dead outside Wednesday morning, near his home on Detroit's west side, police said.
Ecorse detective Tim Sassak told WDIV-TV (Channel 4) that another man discovered Wednesday was a former member of the City Council. Gary Sammons had served in other capacities over the years, the News-Herald.com reported.
Sassak said the man wasn’t wearing a hat or gloves and wasn’t dressed for below-zero temperatures when found across the street, near a neighbor’s house. Sassak said police believe he was disoriented.
Meanwhile, Henry Ford Health System reported one case of frostbite as well as three slip and falls at its West Bloomfield Township hospital by late Wednesday afternoon, spokeswoman Tammy Battaglia said. The Henry Ford Hospital emergency department fielded one patient with cold exposure to feet later in the evening.
Detroit Receiving Hospital had two cases of frostbite Wednesday, "but they expect more in the coming days," said Detroit Medical Center spokesman Jason Barczy.
There also were multiple slip and falls reported at Beaumont's Farmington Hills, Trenton, Taylor and Wayne locations, spokesman Mark Geary said.
The cold has also spurred churches, community centers and charities to open warming centers, including at St. Augustine/St. Monica in Detroit.
The church's pastor, the Rev. Dan Trapp, said the site had eight people who sought shelter Wednesday evening. “We’re expecting more tonight, and we just want to let people know we’re open and have room,” he said. “We also might take in people from overflowing other centers.”
Trapp said due to the bitter cold, the church extended their shelter to operate 24-hours until Friday at 8 a.m.
Among those who found cots and other goods from the American Red Cross were Anton Maurice Spann Sr., 56, and his wife, Shavonne Spann, 33. The couple live nearby in a two-family flat they rent for $400 per month, but their electricity bill is the same amount. Unable to afford both, Anton Spann turned off the electricity to save on that bill, he told The Detroit News.
The couple spent Tuesday night there and planned to remain through Thursday, Shavonne Spann said. "It’s awesome help. I hope they extend it to the weekend. They’re loving people."
On Wednesday, Dr. Chad Audi of Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries said they partnered with the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, which brought eight vehicles to aid in transporting people and sweeping the streets with their patrols.
"We have more than yesterday and the shelters are already full," Audi said. "We picked up nine people today, some who wouldn't come to the shelters the past two days.
"All our shelters are completely full, but we're making accommodations for people. We can't turn anyone away in this cold."
Survival also was why so many were calling animal rescue groups.
The Michigan Humane Society, which this week asked Metro Detroit residents to report pets left without food, water or shelter, has "been experiencing a significant uptick in calls," spokeswoman Anna Chrisman said Wednesday. "Our dispatch officers answered over 200 calls yesterday, and our cruelty and rescue teams physically visited over 70 locations. Calls have been continually coming in today and we are anticipating a similar day for Thursday."
The calls, she said, "may be the animal’s only chance at survival."
Detroit Pit Crew Dog Rescue posted on Facebook that the group had received hundreds of calls and messages about dogs being left in the cold. "We are trying to focus on the most urgent stray dog situations first and the majority of all the wellness checks are being turned over to Detroit Animal Care and Control," crew members wrote on Facebook this week.
State veterinarian Nora Wineland with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development urged owners and others to watch out for livestock, too, saying it was "imperative that owners take the extra steps necessary to ensure the health and safety of their animals."
The conditions also are affecting travel and straining infrastructure.
Due to the brutal cold, the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, or SMART, offered free rides on all of its fixed routes for Wednesday and Thursday, officials said. The Detroit Department of Transportation also is offering free rides for the two days.
“In this inclement weather, people already have plenty to worry about,” John Hertel, SMART's general manager, said in a statement. “By offering free rides today, we can eliminate one worry for the riders and get them to work safely.”
Officials with Detroit's QLine street car service said Wednesday that it also was offering free rides Wednesday because of the intense cold. Earlier in the day, the QLine said it would operate on a reduced schedule because of the extremely cold conditions. They said the combination of cold and and heaters working overtime means the electric rail cars need more time to charge.
In Detroit, more than two dozen water mains froze. Customers were connected to other mains to keep water service from being interrupted, Detroit Water and Sewerage spokesman Bryan Peckinpaugh said.
Most mains were installed from the early 1900s to the 1950s. They are 5 to 6 feet underground and beneath the frost line, but that matters little when temperatures drop so dramatically, Peckinpaugh said.
On a typical winter day, the city has five to nine breaks, with each taking about three days to fix. But those repairs will take longer now with the large number of failures to fix, he said.
“Water pipes are brittle. The more years they’ve gone through the freeze-thaw cycle, the more likely stress and strain,” said Greg DiLoreto, a volunteer with the American Society of Civil Engineers and chair of its committee on American infrastructure.
Pipes laid a century ago have far exceeded the life span for which they were designed, said DiLoreto, who described the aging process as “living on borrowed time.”
The weather conditions reverberated elsewhere.
The Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak shut their doors Wednesday, as did many area school districts. Detroit Public Schools Community District officials said its buildings also would be closed Thursday.
The city of Detroit's government offices were open for business, though.
“We know that our residents depend on many of these services, and we’re committed to providing them even in the coldest temperatures,” Hakim Berry, the city's chief operations officer, said in a statement.
Several restaurants in downtown Detroit were closed, along with some area municipal offices, after the thermometer topped out at 1 early Wednesday, which the National Weather Service ranked as the coldest maximum temperature for Jan. 30 since 1951, then hovered below zero.
The morning rush-hour temperature at Detroit Metro Airport bottomed out at minus 8, besting the previous record, minus 4, also in 1951. By midnight, the low was minus 13, the weather service reported.
The mercury could hover around minus 14 by daybreak Thursday, surpassing the date's previous record low of minus 7 set in 1920, then rise only into the single digits.
Wind chills could drop between minus 25 and minus 45 on Thursday morning, a range that can lead to frostbite in as few as 15 minutes of exposure, the weather service said.
Temperatures could stay below zero again overnight. Friday's forecast calls for slightly warmer conditions, but barely: highs in the teens, or more than 15 degrees below average.
"This will be the coldest weather across southeast Michigan since February 2014," the weather service said.
Thursday: Mostly sunny and cold with a high near 3 and a low of about minus 17 degrees.
Friday: Mostly cloudy with a high near 15 degrees and a low of about 4 degrees.
Saturday: Mostly sunny with temperatures rising to a high near 40 with a low of about 32 degrees. There's a chance of snow after 1 a.m.
Sunday: Mostly cloudy with a high near 47 degrees and a low of about 40 degrees. There's a chance of rain and snow before 8 a.m. and a chance of rain between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Monday: Cloudy with a high near 51 degrees and a low of about 33 degrees. Rain likely.
Tuesday: Mostly cloudy with a high near 41 degrees and a low of 34. A chance of rain.
Source: National Weather Service
Staff Writer James David Dickson and the Associated Press contributed