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Farmers battle cold to do daily chores

CHIPPEWA FALLS — Adam Seibel usually lets his cows outside for a bit each day, but with wind chills as low as -53 degrees today in the Chippewa Valley, the animals will stay in his barn.

“Usually our dry cows and heifers go outside,” said Seibel, who has 350 cows on his farm in the town of Woodmohr, south of Bloomer. “This is the first time we’ve closed the barn doors in years, to keep the heat in.”

Seibel, like other farmers across western Wisconsin, battled the cold weather — today’s low air temperature is forecast at -29 — while feeding their animals and doing their everyday chores around their farm this week.

“We’re giving them extra energy in their rations, and extra electrolytes, and an extra bottle of milk,” Seibel said. “We spend a few extra hours in the barn, scraping manure and trying to keep it clear.”

Extra precautions are taken to make sure the animals stay warm.

“We’re putting down extra straw,” Seibel said. “All the calves and young stock all have blankets on them. They are strapped on them, with a buckle.”

Seibel also is concerned about the machinery.

“There is a risk, with conveyors, that could freeze up, and not work,” he said. “Our biggest concern is water lines freezing, or a heater stopping working in the middle of the night. Making sure everything is working is the big thing, and everything is thawed out.”

Brad Peck, who farms in the town of Hallie, has 400 animals on his farm, including 170 dairy cows. He also is concerned about how the cold weather affects his equipment.

“Just getting a tractor started at -10 (degrees) is difficult,” Peck said. “I need to mix my feed and haul it to the cows. For the milking cows, it’s almost 100 pounds of feed every day. I move 20,000 pounds of feed every day. With this weather, I give them an extra pound of corn every day.”

Peck said everything becomes a little bit more challenging with the cold weather.

“Keeping water liquid is a challenge; they need to drink,” he said. “Machinery doesn’t necessarily like to work well. You can’t haul manure because it is frozen.”

Peck said some of his animals could go outside, but he does have space inside for all of them. But cows are resilient, he added.

“If it’s a healthy animal and they are out of the wind, they get through it pretty good,” Peck said. “There is no heat in the cow barn, but it was about 30 degrees in there (Tuesday) morning.

However, the floor is cement and becomes quite cold.

“They have a mattress where they lay, and there’s straw, so they aren’t lying on cement,” Peck said.

George Polzin, who farms in the town of Goetz, north of Cadott, has 300 animals, including 100 mature dairy cows and 150 young stock. Polzin shrugs at questions about the weather.

“You just do what you’ve got to do,” he said. “You dress appropriately and hope things don’t break down. But cattle need to be fed. You don’t dwell on it. You just have to be more careful; you can’t take shortcuts when it’s cold. Little things can become big problems.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Polzin had all his animals inside. The small calves are in a heated barn.

“Some of them eat outside,” he said. “We have five outside waters that are heated.”

Mark Hagedorn, Eau Claire County UW Extension agriculture agent, echoed the farmers’ comments that cows are able to handle cold weather, and many cows in the area are still outside, huddling together by tree lines and hay bales.

“Keep them dry and keep them out of the wind,” Hagedorn said. “They are built to deal with the cold. They are well-insulated and have thick hides.”

Hagedorn agreed that farmers need to increase their calorie intake, including some extra carbohydrates, during this type of weather.

The bigger concern is the farm machinery continuing to function, Hagedorn said. But farmers prepare for this weather in advance, he added.

“You’ll see farmers in October switch to a higher grade of diesel that won’t turn to jello (in the cold),” Hagedorn said. “Equipment has gotten very good over the years, with higher horse-power engines that start easier.”

Hagedorn said another fear is frozen pipes, and the mess that can be made when one breaks.

Classes, garbage hauling suspended

College classes won’t be taught, garbage haulers are suspending service and even some businesses will be closed today in the Chippewa Valley due to extreme cold weather.

While K-12 school districts had already declared they would be closed during the current rash of subzero temperatures and bitter cold wind chills, other services and institutions announced Tuesday that they are joining in.

Universities and colleges throughout western Wisconsin won’t be holding classes today.

“It is rare,” said Doug Mell, UW-Stout’s executive director of university communications and external relations. “We don’t do it except in extreme circumstances.”

The few winter weather closures the university has had are usually for snowstorms, he added, and typically just means cancelling afternoon or evening classes, not whole days.

UW-Stout canceled classes after 3:35 p.m. Tuesday, giving students a chance to board the last afternoon bus back to their homes to hunker down for today’s frigid weather.

While classes won’t be held, the university will keep several buildings open. Employees who decide it’s unsafe for them to go to work are required to check with their supervisor about taking a personal or vacation day, Mell said.

UW-River Falls also canceled classes after noon Tuesday and won’t hold any today.

UW-Eau Claire — in its winterim session of classes until the spring semester starts Monday — canceled today’s on-campus classes, but online courses will still be taught.

Chippewa Valley Technical College closed Tuesday and won’t have classes today either.

Garbage service canceled

Garbage and recycling haulers that serve the Chippewa Valley are canceling routes today and Thursday for the safety of their workers.

Advanced Disposal, ProVyro Waste Services and Boxx Sanitation all announced they will not run routes on those days. Waste Management spokeswoman Lynn Morgan confirmed the hauler also won’t be doing curbside residential pickup today and Thursday in Eau Claire. Local waste and compost hauler Earthbound Environmental Solutions also will not be running routes on those days.

Customers who normally get curbside service on Wednesdays and Thursdays are asked to keep their garbage and recycling and put it out next week on their regular day.

Recycling collection done by ProVyro in Chippewa Falls today and Thursday also is canceled. Customers affected by that are advised to bag up this week’s recyclables and put them next to their recycling bin on their next collection dates — Feb. 14 and 15 — according to City Clerk Bridget Givens.

Rural recycling drop sites in Eau Claire County were closed Tuesday and will remain closed today.

Business impacts

Some restaurants have closed during the cold snap, citing safety of workers and customers.

Grand Avenue Cafe, 119 W. Grand Ave., closed at 10 a.m. Monday and remained shuttered on Tuesday as well, according to a sign on the restaurant’s front door and a post on its Facebook page.

The Brewing Projekt, 1807 N. Oxford Ave., announced it would not open its taproom today due to the cold temperatures.

Stella Blues, 306 E. Madison St., opted not to open Tuesday or today, citing the extreme cold and consideration of the safety to the restaurant’s workers, according to its Facebook page.

Health care providers however emphasized they would stay open, but urged people to exercise caution when venturing out.

Marshfield Clinic Health System tweeted that its centers and hospitals will remain open for patient care. However, the health care provider advised that patients should use their judgment in deciding to go to appointments and dress warmly for the cold weather.

Libraries, recreation

L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire and the Chippewa Falls Public Library both closed early at 5 p.m. on Tuesday and will do the same today. Usually the Eau Claire library would be open until 9 p.m. and Chippewa Falls until 8 p.m.

The Eau Claire public library specified that while the building will be open today, regular programming will not be held and community meetings there after 4:30 p.m. are canceled.

The city of Eau Claire closed most of its outdoor ice rinks and warming houses Tuesday, keeping only Pinehurst Park open to those interested in winter recreation. However, all outdoor ice rinks and warming houses at city parks are closed today. Even some indoor recreation activities provided by the city at school gymnasiums were canceled so residents wouldn’t be encouraged to venture out in the cold.

Ski resort Christie Mountain in Bruce will be closed on Thursday. The closure is “for the safety of our patrons and staff,” according to the resort’s website.

Temperature predicted to hit lowest point in 23 years

Comfort is nearly impossible to find in the dangerously cold temperatures enveloping the Chippewa Valley.

But there is this: You have a chance to be a part of local history.

Yep, National Weather Service meteorologist Brent Hewett said Tuesday this week’s cold snap is expected to reach historic levels, rivaling temperatures and wind chills rarely seen in more than a century.

The Weather Service’s forecast for Eau Claire as of Tuesday afternoon called for temperatures to plunge to minus 27 degrees this morning and then hit minus 29 tonight.

That would be the coldest temperature recorded in Eau Claire since it hit minus 33 on Feb. 3, 1996, said Ed Hopkins, assistant state climatologist.

Factoring in unusually strong winds of up to 15 mph, the wind chill was expected to hit minus 53 degrees today, prompting the Weather Service to issue a Wind Chill Warning for much of west-central Wisconsin through Thursday morning.

“This is a life-threatening situation for those spending any prolonged period outdoors without proper clothing,” the agency warned, adding that such wind chills can cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as five minutes.

Temperatures in Eau Claire are forecast to sink lower than during the much ballyhooed polar vortex five years ago and could rival the historic cold spell of 1996, Hewett said.

The daily lows reached between minus 27 and minus 33 during a five-day stretch from Jan. 31 to Feb. 4 in 1996 at the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport, according to the Wisconsin State Climatology Office. The 1996 cold spell also was the last time the high temperature was colder than today’s forecast high of minus 14.

“The cold probably won’t quite be record-breaking this week, but it is expected to challenge temperatures back as far as the 1880s,” Hewett said.

The coldest temperature reached in Eau Claire since records began in 1891 was minus 45 degrees on Jan. 30, 1951, or 68 years ago today, State Climatology Office records show.

The latest cold front is the result of an upper level low pressure system coming down from northern Canada, made worse by the recent snow pack, Hewett said.

As a result of the frigid conditions, the state Department of Transportation warned motorists Tuesday to be on the lookout for black ice, a thin layer of highly transparent and hazardous ice that forms as melting snow refreezes on roads and bridges.

Black ice occurs most often overnight and in the early morning as pavement temperatures drop, the agency said, but the chilly forecast through Friday morning makes black ice a daytime possibility as well because of blowing snow and the potential for shorter-term freeze-thaw cycles as vehicle exhaust or sunlight heat driving surfaces before bitter winds freeze the moisture.