The frigid cold last week, when the wind chill factor hit 50 below zero, was the perfect time for a science experiment when not in school due to the cold. This girl shows how water crystalized the second it was thrown into the air from a pan. —Photo By Jennifer West
The frigid cold last week, when the wind chill factor hit 50 below zero, was the perfect time for a science experiment when not in school due to the cold. This girl shows how water crystalized the second it was thrown into the air from a pan. —Photo By Jennifer West
The near record-breaking low temperatures that moved across the Midwest last week resulted in school closings, postponements of numerous athletic events, business closures and a state of emergency declared in Wisconsin.

Once the cold moved through the region last Friday, temperatures warmed Saturday and Sunday, giving way to rain showers late Sunday and Monday.

There were more school cancellations Monday as freezing rain put a one-quarter-inch layer of ice on roads, sidewalks and trees. Many businesses were closed Monday or were open with a skeleton staff. Schools resumed on Tuesday across the region.

The cold snap last week was the worst in approximately 30 years, according to North Woods meteorologists, with temperatures from 20 to 30 below zero. The wind chill factor dipped to 51 below zero in the Eagle River area last Wednesday.

All Northland Pines, Three Lakes and Phelps school district schools were closed last Wednesday and Thursday due to the extreme cold. 

All school activities were also cancelled Wednesday and Thursday in the three school districts. Athletic directors are now juggling dates to get the remaining winter sports games in prior to WIAA tournaments starting later this month.

Due to extreme weather conditions, Oneida County Chairman David Hintz authorized the closing of all Oneida County offices and services last Wednesday, and employees returned to work Thursday at 10 a.m.

This included the Oneida County Courthouse, the Health and Aging building and the UW-Extension office, all located in Rhine­lander. Exceptions were essential personnel at the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office and the Oneida County Highway Department.

In line with the decision of governments, schools and some businesses to shut down, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) suspended regular mail delivery in several areas of Wisconsin, including the Eagle River area, last Wednesday and Thursday. 

In a statement last Tuesday, the USPS announced Wisconsin residents with ZIP codes that start with 530-532, 535, 537-539, 541-545 and 549 would not be getting regular mail Wednesday. On Wednesday, service was again suspended for Thursday for ZIP codes starting with 530-532, 534, 535, 537-539, 541-545 and 549.

The frigid temperatures caused delays to newspaper delivery throughout the state, with some publications opting to forego production altogether.

Gov. Tony Evers declared a state of emergency last Monday for the entire state of Wisconsin in response to the winter storm and dangerous wind chills that blanketed the state.

In addition to the cold, heavy snow fell across southern Wisconsin, as many areas received 7 to 14 inches of snow. The North Woods received 2 to 3 inches. That, combined with strong winds, caused hazardous road condition, especially in central and southern Wisconsin. 

The polar vortex that hit the Midwest also had many area residents concerned about frozen pipes at their homes and businesses.

Mike Sanborn, manager of Eagle River Light and Water Utility, said workers only had to repair one water main that broke on Hirzel Street due to the cold temperatures. 

“We’ve been pretty fortunate so far,” said Sanborn. “As the cold lingers, we may have certain residences and businesses run some water to prevent frozen pipes. That would be for places that historically have had problems.” 

Greg Simac of Simac Plumbing and Heating, said he had a few emergency calls due to the cold the past week.

“Honestly, it wasn’t too bad,” said Simac. “We have just enough snow cover to protect the pipes and septic systems. I had a few calls from people who aren’t here who wanted me to check their properties, especially if they had something like a water line to a garage and forgot to shut it off before they left for the winter.”

Simac said there will likely be a few property owners who return to the North Woods in the spring and will find water damage in their homes due to frozen pipes. 



Damage to homes

Because of the frigid cold, Insurance Commissioner Mark Afable urged Wisconsin residents to take precautions to protect themselves from costly home damage, including frozen pipes and ice dams caused by sub-zero and fluctuating temperatures.

“Many Wisconsin residents are already dealing with freezing and bursting pipes due to the unprecedented cold. Now with warm-er temperatures (high tem-

peratures of 30 to 40 degrees last weekend) there is a real possibility for ice dams to form on roofs,” Afable said. “As you take the necessary steps to protect your home, take a moment to check your homeowner’s insurance coverage, too. Some types of water damage are covered and some are not.”

Ice dams form when melting snow runs down the slope of the roof and refreezes near the edge. Over time, water accumulates behind the ice dam and may seep into a home or business, damaging walls, flooring and cabinets.

Water pipes burst when ice forms inside pipes and creates too much pressure. After a faucet or valve is turned off, water remaining in the pipe will freeze in frigid conditions. Because ice takes up more space than water, pressure builds and can cause the pipe to burst.

In general, water coming from the top down — such as burst fire sprinklers and ice dam seepage behind drywall — is covered by a standard homeowner’s policy. Water coming from the bottom up — such as an overflowing river — requires a separate flood insurance policy. 

“Your homeowner’s insurance may provide coverage for ice damage, but a roof already in poor condition before the weather event may affect that coverage,” said Afable. “Check your homeowner’s policy for adequate coverage and for any specific endorsements or riders.”

Afable said people can protect themselves and their property in cold weather as follows:

• Have the furnace set to a sufficient heat level to keep pipes warm.

• Open cupboard doors so heat can reach pipes. 

• If pipes burst, turn off the main water shut-off or the valve to the frozen pipe.

• Dry the area to prevent potential mold problems.

• Remove snow from the bottom portion of the roof using a “roof rake” or push broom (do not climb on the roof or chip ice away, which may cause damage to shingles).

• Keep the attic well ventilated and insulated from the rest of the house to minimize the amount of heat rising to the roof (the colder the attic is the less melting and refreezing will occur on the roof.

• Contact your insurance agent to evaluate your coverage from ice damage and familiarize yourself with the claims filing process in the event you do experience damage.

The Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) provides consumer publications such as Consumer’s Guide to Homeowner’s Insurance and Settling Property Insurance Claims, on the OCI’s website at oci.wi.gov. Contact the OCI at (608) 266-3585 or ociinformation@wisconsin.gov.