There’s no other word for the weather that began descending on the Walla Walla area this week.
And it's expected to last through Friday, Dec. 23.
It goes beyond the daily temperatures, the ones headed into single digits, said Rob Brooks, of the National Weather Service in Pendleton.
According to the federal agency, as of Wednesday morning, Dec. 21, Walla Walla is expected to see a high of 8 degrees and a low of about 5 degrees on Thursday, Dec. 22.
Not such scary numbers by themselves, Brooks said, but when combined with air movement, it makes for weather to be reckoned with.
In some places across the region, wind can reduce the feel of the actual temperature by up to 20 degrees, the meteorologist said.
That’s thanks to evaporation, primarily. The process that wicks away sweat and moisture is great at cooling bodies in the summer but works against us in the winter, lowering our core temperatures and possibly leading to hypothermia, Brooks said.
It is important to try to stay dry when outside during cold temperatures. When moisture sinks into your clothing it can magnify the effects of evaporation and speed up the process, he added.
This area of the Pacific Northwest is blessed with mountains, which can help mitigate temperature variations, yet it is still going to be "really cold," Brooks said.
And after Thursday?
Ice, he said. "That could be around until Sunday. That is never a fun time."
There are a number of impacts, from small to severe, brought on by dangerously low temperatures, Walla Walla experts said this week.
From shelter providers to home heating professionals, several people took a look at the local situation in bitterly cold weather or offered advice for steps people can take to weather the weather.
Dr. Cicero Running Crane, medical director of the Providence St. Mary Medical Center emergency medicine department, said the most common injury his department sees in patients during cold and wet spells are falls from slipping on the ice.
“Make sure that the areas where you are walking are clear of ice and snow. Always use handrails when walking stairs. If walking paths are not clear, use extreme caution,” Running Crane said.
Remember that areas previously icy, when covered with new snowfall, can be particularly slick and present a significant fall risk, he said. “Dress in layers and keep your extremities and fingers and toes dry as possible if you are going to be outside for an extended period without the ability to rewarm.”
People traveling during cold and icy conditions should carry a sleeping bag, blanket or extra-warm clothes. Extra water and food are a good idea, too, he said.
“Have a charger for your phone or another way to contact help if needed. If you are planning to travel outside of cellphone range, make sure someone knows where you are going and when to expect you back.”
Even better, Running Crane said, limit travel if conditions are unsafe for the entire journey.
But if you do get stuck in the snow, make sure it is not blocking the vehicle’s exhaust pipe while running the vehicle to stay warm — this can cause deadly carbon monoxide poisoning, he said.
Hands and feet that have gotten cold should be rewarmed with a warm water bath and definitely not under hot running water. That can worsen the damage to vulnerable tissue in those extremities, Running Crane said. “Replace the warm water when it becomes room temperature. Use warm, not hot water. If there are concerns about significant injury due to cold exposure, seek medical evaluation.”
Living unhoused is a challenge at any time of year, but in times of extreme weather getting into shelter can mean life or death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a study from 2018-2020 showed death rates attributed to excessive cold or hypothermia were generally higher in more rural areas, with men having higher death rates than women at every level of urbanization.
The sleep center on Rees Avenue operated by the Walla Walla Alliance for the Homeless has been full daily for about 18 months, said Executive Director Jordan Green.
“We are full. We certainly have people come and go, but we stay full,” Green said.
While the organization is taking steps to expand capacity with 10 new huts, those are not ready for occupancy.
“This year, though, we do have our common room facility. We also have a steel structure added to the courtyard with tarp-style walls. And we will have propane heaters set up. People can escape the cold and hang out in there.”
While outside air is frigid, people’s hearts are warm, Green said.
“We’ve had a great outpouring of donations the last few weeks. The stuff we go through most is warm socks, waterproof gloves, shoes and boots. Blankets are always appreciated. We only take twin or full sizes, though, the larger stuff is too hard to care for, too hard on our laundry.”
The sleep center is turning away people daily because there is no room, Green said. Donation and other questions can be answered at 509-520-0316.
Merri Anne Huber, volunteer spokesperson for the emergency warming center operated by New Beginnings Chapel on West Main Street, said the shelter can only operate through the availability of volunteers.
The church opens its doors at 7 p.m. on nights when outdoor temperatures drop to 25 degrees, or 28 to 30 degrees with rain and snow in the forecast.
On Monday, Dec. 19, 19 people slept there, Huber said.
Along with volunteer time, the church welcomes donations to help cover heating and supplies costs, plus warm gloves to give people when they depart in the morning. For more information call or text Huber at 541-861-9055.
The Christian Aid Center on Birch Street has long been a refuge for folks in need of shelter.
Corina Car, director of development at the faith-based rescue mission, said that during the past month the center has seen an increase in people needing shelter, most likely coinciding with the beginning of colder temperatures.
“However, within the last two weeks, we’ve seen higher than usual numbers in our shelter, especially in relation to the past two years," Car said. "But even with these high numbers, we do everything we can to ensure nobody is left out in the cold.”
There is still room for those needing a place to spend the night, Car said Tuesday.
With the dangerously low temperatures this week, the center also remains open to clients during the day as a place of refuge, she said.
While the Christian Aid Center has historically enjoyed strong community support, there is always a need for donations of gloves, socks, hats, hand warmers, thermal underwear, lip balm, cough drops and hot beverages like cocoa, coffee and tea, Car said. To offer help, call 509-525-7153.
Veterinarian Andrea Adams cannot overemphasize the importance of making sure outdoor animals have access to water.
“It’s a huge issue,” Adams said.
People get busy and don’t always remember to check to make sure their livestock have water that hasn’t frozen over.
Electric stock tank heaters seem like the perfect answer, but those can go bad and end up shocking the animal every time they try to get a drink, Adams said. “And they feel (the current) way before humans do."
Ruminants — that’s your cows, goats, sheep and giraffes — do well in freezing weather with extra, long stem hay for bedding, she said, but every animal needs some kind of shelter in these conditions.
There is no real consensus on blanketing horses in winter and either way is fine, Adams said. “But be consistent.”
Animals are designed to grow “great” coats of hair for these thermometer drops, she added.
Washington State University offers some livestock winter management ideas at bit.ly/3BQkfsU.
Times of extreme cold are the worst times for a heating system to stop working. Unfortunately, Terry Hall, owner of Total Comfort Solutions in Walla Walla, said these are the exact times heaters are most likely to have issues.
“We have a lot of calls with people saying their system just isn’t keeping up,” Hall said. “Well, that makes sense. The more you use it, the more likely it is to break … They are turning on and off more often. That’s the hardest part for the motor: turning on. And they are running longer so they are having to work harder.”
Hall offered some tips to keep HVAC systems working through the cold season.
First, he said, clean your filter.
“The furnace has been running more because it’s cooler,” he said. “So, the filter might be dirtier sooner than you expect."
While it might be tempting to turn the thermostat down a bit at night to lower your bill and give the system a rest, Hall said that’s one of the worst things you can do.
Because when you turn the temperature up the next morning, the system will have a hard time catching up.
“When it’s so cold, it has to work so hard to warm it back up,” Hall said. “So, any money you saved overnight, you give right back, and you put a lot of stress on your system.”
Hall also stressed the importance of blocking vents from crawl spaces and covering gaps around doors.
The city of Walla Walla also has some tips to keep water pipes from freezing.
First, city water staff suggest making sure you know where your water shut off is located. They also suggest leaving cupboard doors under sinks open and letting your facet drip to keep the water in your pipes moving. Outside, you should unplug garden hoses and insulate outdoor spigots.
Cold weather can be harmful to domestic animals, too.
Dr. Susan Fazzari, a veterinarian with Animal Clinic East in Walla Walla, said pets that are normally kept indoors should remain indoors as much as possible.
“If they are not acclimated to cold weather, house pets need to stay house pets,” Fazzari said. “They can go to the bathroom outside and then come right back in.”
Dogs that are kept outside need a way to stay warm. Even ones with thick coats.
“They need some form of shelter and some form of warmth, such as a heated dog bed, an igloo or a garage,” she said. “Just because they have a thick hair coat doesn’t mean they can tolerate (the extreme cold).”
Fazzari said that just like with humans, animals’ extremities are at highest risk during the cold.
“Tips of the tail, tips of the ears, tips of the nose,” she said. “Their feet can freeze if they aren’t protected from the snow and ice.”
She also said you need to adjust the diet of outdoor dogs during the cold.
“If they are truly an outdoor working dog, you need to increase their amount of food. But you can’t increase it suddenly, you need to work into it,” Fazzari said. “If you have a sudden temperature drop, then definitely increase it to 1.5 to double or more of their normal portion. Because they are using that many more calories to create the heat that they need to stay warm.”
Fazzari said cats, even ones that love to be outside, can freeze in the cold.
“Cats need a warm spot,” she said. If they don’t have a warm spot, they will freeze to death … They need a warm spot like a heated bed, a garage or a heat lamp.”
Fazzari said sick, older or juvenile animals are less tolerant of the cold, making it even more important to keep these animals warm.
The current weather system over this part of Washington and Oregon is complex, Rob Brooks said, and as soon as this one leaves another system is poised to come in.
"Walla Walla can't complain too much. Most of the (arctic cold) is wind chill, so if you're inside it's not too bad."
By Christmas Eve, Brooks' office is predicting the thermometer to read a high of 37 degrees, and 40 degrees on Christmas Day with a 40% chance of rain.
By Tuesday, the region is likely to see temperatures within kissing distance of 50 degrees.
"It's a full bag of cats," Brooks said, sounding chipper about it all. "It's going to be an interesting winter."
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