MT. VERNON — Harsh winter weather is expected to hit the Mt. Vernon area early next week, pushing temperatures down to the single digits or lower and possibly producing new snowfall.
In light of this dour forecast, local emergency officials are urging the public to use caution when dealing with the cold weather.
“If you’re going to be outside, make sure to dress warm and in layers,” said Kevin Sargent, Mt. Vernon’s assistant fire chief and Emergency Management Agency coordinator. “Wind chills could push it to 20 below (zero). … And don’t forget about your pets.”
Both Mt. Vernon hospitals are available as warming centers, as are any of the State of Illinois offices in town, Sargent said.
“If you have elderly family members, make sure they have heat,” Sargent said.
According to a special weather statement from the Illinois Emergency Alert System, the arctic cold temperatures will begin Sunday night and continue into the first part of next week.
Monday and Tuesday are expected to be the coldest days of that week, with highs only reaching the single digits or teens and low temperatures at, near or below zero. Expected wind could make the temperatures even lower.
If the weather predictions hold true, early next week will see some of the coldest temperatures in Mt. Vernon since the mid-1990s, according to the weather statement.
One of the main concerns for Sargent is that residents be careful using space heaters, which can present a major fire hazard.
If you use a space heater, make sure to keep it at least three feet away from any combustible materials, such as furniture or curtains, Sargent said.
Also, never use a frayed or damaged cord with a space heater and don’t place a rug over the extension cord for the heater if you are using one, said Mike Huntman, fire chief for the Jefferson Fire Protection District. The extension cord should also be rated at the same level as the heater, he said.
“If the cord looks bad any way at all, don’t use it,” Huntman said.
In rural Jefferson County, wood-burning stoves are a major concern for fire officials, Huntman said.
When using such a stove, be sure not to overload it with wood and always dispose of the ashes safely, he said. Try to let the ashes cool before putting them near a building, he said.
In addition, any residents who use a propane, natural gas or wood-burning stove should have a carbon monoxide detector in their home, along with smoke detectors, Huntman said.
“Anything that has a fuel that burns, you need a carbon monoxide detector in the house,” Huntman said.
If your home is prone to having its water lines freeze, you may want to leave one of your faucets dripping, Sargent said. This helps prevent the water lines from freezing and bursting by keeping water running through them.
Also, if a pipe does freeze, never use a torch to try to thaw it out, Sargent said. Instead, you should contact a professional to deal with the situation.
Furnaces will be working overtime during the cold weather, so make sure yours is in good condition and that the filters have been changed, Sargent said. If you use a propane furnace, check that you have plenty of fuel on hand.
The American Red Cross Greater St. Louis Region also offers several tips to keep homeowners well-prepared for the inclement weather.
One key recommendation is to have at least a three-day water supply in the home, along with non-perishable food, a flashlight, a weather radio, batteries, a first-aid kit, a seven-day supply of medications and supplies for babies and pets.
Travel should be kept to a minimum during extremely cold weather.
However, if you have to drive, make sure to keep plenty of emergency supplies in the vehicle. Needed supplies include a blanket, food, water, a winter coat, a flashlight, a first-aid kit and a phone charger, states a Red Cross news release.
Your vehicle should also be winterized and have a full gas tank, the release states.
Furthermore, you should seek medical attention if you experience any symptoms of hypothermia or frostbite.
Hypothermia symptoms include confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. Frostbite symptoms include numbness; flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration; and waxy feeling skin, the release states.