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Vexed by the vortex: cold prompts retreat

South Boston News / January 08, 2014
Bitterly cold temperatures that swept through Southside Virginia had welcome little impact Tuesday, although schools were closed in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties to protect students and staff from the worst effects of the polar vortex.

Superintendent of Schools James Thornton made the call Monday to close the schools for the safety of the children — with the weather forecast calling for temperatures in the single digits around the same time schoolchildren would be waiting outside for their morning bus.

Schools are on a regular schedule today.

Richmond and Raleigh, N.C. reported record low temperatures Tuesday morning, with Richmond coming in at 10 degrees F and Raleigh at 9 F. The old records for each city was set in 1988 when Richmond posted a low of 12 F and Raleigh a low of 15 F.

With no reported power outages in the area, customers with Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MCE) and Virginia Dominion Power did not suffer the same fate as those in the Lynchburg area. Nearly 1,300 people in Lynchburg were without power on Tuesday afternoon due to the cold and high heating demands, which a spokesperson for Appalachian Power said put stress on the electrical grid.

For most of the area, temperatures never climbed above the 20s throughout Tuesday, and with the wind chill factor, it felt closer to the mid-teens.

Officials in Clarksville, Boydton and Chase City reported no problems associated with the cold. Still, they welcomed weather reports promising temperatures reaching the 60 degree mark as early as Saturday.

The frigid blast, which stretched as far south as Atlanta, Georgia, is the result of a phenomenon known as the polar vortex, a large pocket of very cold air which usually sits over the polar region during the winter. It is typically the coldest air in the Northern Hemisphere.

This year, the vortex made its way south, bringing with it the coldest temperatures in 20 years, according to the National Weather Service.

The best way to protect yourself from the cold, writes Kathryn Prociv with The Washington Post, is to understand it. More specific steps to take to protect against the cold include:

Have an emergency kit ready, including batteries, blankets and/or sleeping bags, a fire extinguisher, and carbon monoxide detector;

Bring your pets inside and keep them away from doors and windows where gold air can settle.

Prevent pipes from freezing by keeping cabinet doors open and allowing faucets to drip.

Drain or disconnect any outdoor faucets or hoses to prevent freezing.

Keep your thermostat at a steady temperature and no colder than 55 degrees.

Cover windows with plastic on the inside to help insulate your home and prevent cold drafts.

Fill a bathtub with water in the event water mains break.

Thaw any frozen pipes with a hair dryer, NOT a torch or flame source.

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