Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 6, 2014

Tri-State bundles up for sub-zero stretch

Mike James
The Independent

ASHLAND — The Tri-State hunkered down Monday under a blast of Arctic air that sent temperatures plummeting toward the zero mark.

With lows expected to dip significantly below zero, schools closed, the Salvation Army braced for full occupancy in its shelter and highway workers prepared to barricade the Ironton-Russell Bridge.

Where it had 15 occupants and 15 empty beds in its shelter Sunday night, the Salvation Army’s Ashland citadel was expecting a full house Monday night, according to Capt. Patrick Richmond.

The shelter usually asks occupants to leave in the morning, but not today, Richmond said. Because temperatures were expected to remain low this morning, he ordered the shelter to remain open until the worst of the cold dissipates.

“Usually we ask them to go look for work or some other shelter, but there’s no way I can put anyone out in that cold,” he said.

Every northeastern Kentucky public school was closed Monday and most had made the decision to remain closed on Tuesday by mid-afternoon Monday.

It isn’t safe to ask children to wait for buses even for a few minutes in the bitter cold and wind, said Brock Walter, superintendent of the Boyd County district. More than two thirds of the district’s students ride buses, and typical waits are from 10 to 25 minutes, he said.

Administrators in his district usually start watching the thermometer when it hits 5 degrees Fahrenheit, he said. Other factors that play into closing decisions in the extreme cold are road conditions, potential difficulties in starting buses and keeping them warm and issues with keeping buildings warm enough, he said.

Motorists could expect mostly cleared roads across the region, thanks to highway crews that have been salting and scraping snow and ice since the weekend, transportation department officials said.

The Ironton-Russell Bridge was to be closed at 10 p.m. Monday because of the cold, according to Ohio Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kathleen Fuller. The closure will last until the temperature rises and technicians can inspect the bridge, which will probably be sometime Wednesday, Fuller said.

Steel is brittle when extremely cold, so transportation officials monitor it closely as temperatures sink toward zero, she said. Once the thermometer gets that low, especially considering the age of the bridge, officials close it as a precaution. Main structural members are susceptible to damage if struck by a barge or vehicle during extreme cold, she said.

The bridge will be reopened once the temperature is sustained at 5 degrees or higher and inspectors can check it out, she said.

While it is closed, motorists will be detoured via U.S. 52 and the twin bridges between Ashland and Coal Grove.

The temperature is expected to rise today to the low to mid teens and stay steady overnight. No snow is expected.

MIKEā€ˆJAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.