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How to Stay Safe as Sub-Zero Temperatures Sweep the State

Jeroen Kransen/flickr


You heard right. Iowa is expected to be colder than parts of Antarctica on Wednesday, with sub-zero temperatures expected to settle over the state Tuesday night. These will be some of the coldest days since 1996, when sub-zero temperatures lasted for more than 130 hours in much of the state.

Northeast Iowans should brace themselves for the coldest weather, but all state and regional residents should take precautions to avoid health concerns including hypothermia and frostbite as sub-zero temperatures arrive.

“When you notice shivering, you’re experiencing a drop in core temperature that can advance to trouble with manual dexterity, slurring speech and confusion,” says Kevin Kregel, professor of human physiology at the University of Iowa.


According to Kregel, these responses are symptomatic of hypothermia, and may warrant a trip to the emergency room. If you’re exhibiting symptoms of hypothermia, performing physical activities such as jumping or jogging in place are encouraged as a way to generate internal body heat while waiting for medical assistance.


While all should be prepared, not everyone will respond to cold in identical ways. “Humans acclimatize to heat really well, cold not so well,” Kregel says. “The more muscle mass the better to generate heat.” This means that the elderly, young, and those with preexisting health concerns may need to take extra care when it comes to extreme cold exposure.

Thinking of traveling Wednesday? If you can, think again, says Craig Bargfrede, Winter Operations administrator for the Iowa Department of Transportation.

“We’re seeing some record temps and wind chills. It really is a dangerous situation. It’s really a good time to hunker down with a good book,” Bargfrede says.

If you do need to travel, make sure your vehicle is equipped with proper cold weather clothing layers, blankets, food, water, a cell phone and charger, and a first aid kit. If car trouble or an accident occurs, Bargfrede encourages drivers to stay with their vehicle if at all possible, and call 9-1-1 or local law enforcement for help. Blowing snow, subzero temperatures, and other vehicles can put drivers and passengers at risk of injury when attempting to exit and abandon a vehicle.


Drivers should also take extra care near snowplows. Bargfrede says all Iowa plows are now equipped with amber, blue and white lights to make them more visible to motorists approaching from the rear. When you see those lights, reduce speed and approach with caution.

Learn more about what you can do to stay safe during the coming polar vortex on this segment of River to River. In addition to guests Kevin Kregel and Craig Bargfrede, host Ben Kieffer is also joined by Alan Czarnetzki, professor of meteorology at the University of Northern Iowa.


Katelyn Harrop is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa
Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River