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Be prepared for polar vortex

Bitter cold forecast to last through Jan. 31; talk to farm employees and take special care of livestock and pets.

With one of the coldest arctic air masses in years bearing down on the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes, it’s critical to be prepared.

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The polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles. Many times it will expand southward in winter.

The forecast

The National Weather Service predicts frigid temperatures and bitterly cold wind chills from Jan. 29 through Jan. 31 across the Upper Midwest to the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley. There is a wind chill warning in effect through noon CST Jan. 31 stretching east from North and South Dakota and Nebraska through Pennsylvania. Life-threatening wind chills are forecast along with blowing snow. Wind chills will be as low as 60 below zero with wind gusts as high as 35 mph.

The life-threatening wind chills could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as five minutes. Areas of blowing snow could reduce visibility. The NWS encourages caution when traveling, especially in open areas.

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National Weather Service map from Jan. 29, 2019. The grayish-blue color is in a Wind Chill Warning, which means there are dangerously cold wind chills and blowing snow.

For farm employees

Cold and snow create challenges for everyone, especially for employees who may not be familiar with extreme cold, a South Dakota State University Extension specialist says.

"Farm employees, by the nature of their work, most often spend at least some portion of their workday outdoors or in unheated buildings. Especially if this is your employee's first exposure to extreme cold, it is important that employers ensure they have access to proper winter clothing to stay safe and a clear understanding of the dangers brought on by extreme cold," said Maristela Rovai, Assistant Professor & SDSU Extension Dairy Specialist.

Tips to go over with your employees:

  • Show them your winter gear and tell them where these items can be purchased
  • Put together an emergency travel kit for employees and explain winter driving safety
  • Visit the SDSU Extension website for information to help employees prepare for the cold, available in English and Spanish

For livestock

Oregon State University Extension Service writes that livestock need a dry place to escape cold rains, wet snow and wind. Good, clean, dry bedding insulates livestock from the cold ground. Adequate water is one of the most important considerations for winter feeding.

Winter exercise is important, especially for stabled horses, writes Terry E. Poole in The Frederick News-Post. Any mud or ice on hooves and fetlocks should be removed and horseshoes need to be reset or replaced every six to eight weeks in the winter. For sheep, keep the barn draft-free. Rabbit hutches can be protected by placing them inside buildings that open to the south. Goats are also sensitive to cold.

For pets

Dogs and cats are susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite when exposed to cold temperatures for too long. If you notice your pet is shivering, it’s time to bring the pet indoors. If it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet. Keep walks short, ABC7Chicago reports.

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