FAQ: How to make it through Polar Vortex 2019 in Eastern Iowa

You should probably stay inside. But if you can't, here's what to know

Water vapors rise from the Cedar River as the temperature drops below zero in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (S
Water vapors rise from the Cedar River as the temperature drops below zero in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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It’s freezing outside, school is canceled again and even the mail won’t be delivered today.

But for many, work still is on. Whether you stay home or must venture out, here are some things you should know:

Just how cold is it?

Dangerously cold, the National Weather Service warns, with wind chills dropping as low as 60 below zero through Thursday. Today’s high will be near 15 below with wind chills as low as minus 55 and gusts near 25 mph. At night, temperatures are expected to drop to 31 below, the coldest temperatures the area has seen since 1996. Thursday will see a high near 2 and the low dropping back below zero to minus 3, with wind chills as low as minus 45. Temperatures will rise above freezing by Saturday, with a high near 39, according to the weather service.

What if I have to go out?

The weather service recommends you don’t. But for those who must, bundle up with multiple layers and try to limit skin exposure to avoid frostbite or hypothermia. Signs of frostbite include loss of feeling and color around the face, fingers and toes; numbness; white or grayish-yellow skin; and firm or waxy skin. Signs of hypothermia include exhaustion, confusion, fumbling, memory loss and slurred speech or drowsiness.

Did the postal service really cancel delivery?

Yes — there will be no mail delivered today. The U.S. Postal Service announced Tuesday that mail delivery and pickup services are suspended for Iowa and Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin and Illinois. Retail operations at local offices will be available but may be limited, a release said.

“Our first priority is the safety of our employees,” Kristy L. Anderson, a spokeswoman, told The Gazette in an email.

Will my car start?

A car battery loses a third of its power in freezing weather, according to the AAA. When the air outside cools, the oil in your car thickens, causing parts to move slower, so your battery has to use more power to start the engine. Aside from your car not starting, other signs that your battery power is failing include headlights or interior lights being dimmer than usual or power windows working slowly. Batteries more than 3 years old are also more susceptible to cold.


To help avoid battery failure, the AAA recommends parking in a garage — even a partially open one — if possible.

To prevent unnecessary strain on the battery, turn off your lights, wipers and heater and unplug phone chargers and USB cables before starting your car. Avoid running your car’s heater longer than needed.

Is it safe to drive?

Drivers should be cautious of ice and snow. Steve O’Konek, coordinator at Linn County Emergency Management, said it’s a good idea to keep an emergency kit in your car that includes blankets, clothing, gloves, a hat, water — 1 gallon per person per day — and some high-energy bars. Make sure your car has at least a half-tank of gas and your cellphone is fully charged.

“And, if you get stuck on the side of the road, don’t abandon the vehicle,” he said. “Call for help, alert the authorities and wait in your car for authorities to get to you.”

If a car gets stuck, stay in the vehicle, according to the AAA. This makes it easier for rescuers to locate people who are stranded. Drivers should tie a brightly colored cloth to the top of the antenna or stick it at the top of a window.

Drivers also should ensure the tailpipe is not clogged with snow or ice. The engine should run just long enough to remove the chill with the heater and then be turned off to save gas.

Will buses operate?

Cedar Rapids transit will provide free bus rides today and Thursday during service hours, which are 5:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. Route delays are not anticipated, but the mobile app at ridercrt.com can be used to track arrival times.

No other municipalities have canceled bus service as of Tuesday evening. The University of Iowa’s Cambus will operate but Mayflower and Interdorm routes will be suspended today.


Will flights be affected?

At The Eastern Iowa Airport, freezing temperatures weren’t having much impact on flights as runways remained dry Tuesday, said Pam Hinman, director of marketing and communications. Hinman reminded travelers to keep an eye on their airline website to keep up to date on their flight schedule or any potential delays.

Most of the airport’s arrivals and departures remained on time Tuesday. Check flight statuses at flycid.com/flight-status.

What should I do if the power or heat goes out?

Have extra blankets and a plan, said Steve O’Konek, coordinator at Linn County Emergency Management.

“Have repair numbers ready and available if the heat or gas should go out. Make sure you have enough food and water in the house and some in your car. And make a plan — what would you do if your furnace goes out? Where could you go? What do you do if your car gets stuck? Who can you call?”

To report a power outage, Alliant customers can call 1-800-255-4268 and MidAmerican customers can call 1-800-799-4443.

What should I do to prevent pipes from freezing?

The city of Cedar Rapids recommends leaving cabinet doors under sinks open to help circulate warm air and eliminating drafts from rooms containing your meter or pipes. Leave a thin stream of water running from the tap farthest from your water meter when temperatures drop below 10 degrees.

For water pipes that may be vulnerable to cold air drafts, insulate them with wrap that contains fiberglass or other insulating materials.

What about my pets?

Bring them inside if possible, said Cedar Rapids Animal Care & Control Program Manager Diane Webber. Cold weather can make health issues worse for pets. “If pets do want to be outside, you should make sure they have fresh water, food and a warm place they can go, such as a heated kennel or homemade outdoor shelter,” she said.


Is anything open?

Schools in the Corridor are canceled and many businesses are closed. But government offices are open in Linn and Johnson counties. Staffing numbers might be lower than usual, so wait times could be longer. Officials ask residents to consider conducting business by phone, email or online when possible for the remainder of the week.

Where can I go to stay warm?

• In Cedar Rapids, the downtown public library, 450 Fifth Ave. SE, will open an hour early, at 8 a.m. today and Thursday. Other warm locations include the Ladd Library, 3750 Williams Blvd. SW, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; the Ground Transportation Center, 450 First St. SE, from 5:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m.; and NewBo City Market, 1100 Third St. SE, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today. The Salvation Army at 1000 C Ave. NW also is available as a warming center from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

• In Iowa City, the Salvation Army shelter is open from 9 to 11 a.m. at 1116 Gilbert Court.

• Also in Iowa City, the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center, 220 S. Gilbert St., and the Mercer Park Aquatic Center/Scanlon Gym, 2701 Bradford Dive, are open 6:15 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the week and have heated space and indoor activities.

• The lobby at the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St., will open at 8 a.m. today and Thursday because of the cold. Cocoa and coffee will be provided until the library opens at 10 a.m.

• The Iowa City Senior Center canceled classes through Thursday, but the building will be open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

Mitchell Schmidt, B.A. Morelli, Madison Arnold and Kat Russell of The Gazette contributed.

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