AURORA — Students and teachers in the local school district got an extended year-end holidays break last week because of extremely cold temperatures that gripped Northeast Ohio for several days at the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018.

The official holiday break lasted from Dec. 22 to Jan. 2. Classes resumed Jan. 3, but then were called off Jan. 4-5 when temperatures were in the single digits. Freezing rain and snow also canceled classes Jan. 8.

"The extremely frigid temperatures, not snow, was the reason for canceling classes Jan. 4-5," said Superintendent Pat Ciccantelli. "The younger kids standing out in the cold was the big concern. Our decision was all about safety."

Ciccantelli said in his three years as superintendent, it was the first time the schools had closed for two consecutive days.

The district has closed for four days this school year; the other time being after the Nov. 5 windstorm when power was knocked out to some of the buildings.

Ciccantelli said the state allows for emergency time off amounting to a little more than five days. He said he hopes there will be no more time off this winter, noting "we really want to keep the kids in school and learning."

In past years when winter weather has been severe, the state legislature has approved additional emergency days so districts do not have to make up the time off.

Ciccantelli said most of the high school sports contests scheduled at the end of last week and over the weekend were allowed to take place.

Region hit by Arctic weather

According to the National Weather Service, Cleveland area temperatures did not rise above the freezing (32-degree) mark from Dec. 24 to Jan. 7. They were in the single-digit range a few days, and windchill readings were below zero several days.

Weather forecasters described the recent spell as "dangerously cold." Temperatures were expected to warm into the 40s and low 50s by mid-week this week and plunge into the 20s this weekend.

The city’s Assistant Service Director David Frisbee said between Dec. 28 and Jan. 4 the city used 1,300 tons of salt, noting crews were out since 2 a.m. Jan. 4 with 12 snowplows in operation.

"We have plenty of salt on hand. The salt shed holds 1,000 to 1,200 tons, and I just ordered about 800 tons," he said, adding salt doesn’t work as well when the temperature dips below 20 degrees.

Frisbee said his crews patched many roads in December, but the extreme cold temperatures are wreaking havoc on the pavement, opening up more holes and making travel a bit rougher.

"We try to stay on top of the potholes, using cold-patch as the weather permits," he said. "Our crews look for bad spots as they travel around, and residents are welcome to report pavement that needs fixed."

Late winter and early spring is the time when potholes really become a problem because of the freezing / thawing process. "Our crews usually are very busy at that time of year," he said.

Meanwhile, Fire Chief David Barnes and Police Chief Brian Byard said there weren’t any serious weather-related problems during the recent two-week cold snap.

Barnes said his crews did not have to fight any fires, and did not attend to anyone facing frostbite or hypothermia issues. 

"I encourage people to keep warm and safe during such weather," Barnes said. "And follow safety tips related to one’s well-being and home protection / fire prevention.

"The potential for fires is greater in winter when residents use portable heaters, wood burning stoves and fireplaces."

Byard said one thing that typically increases during extremely cold weather are calls for assistance when people lock themselves out of their cars while warming them up.

He explained a state law and city ordinance prohibit cars to be running with the keys in the ignition and the drivers not in them.

"It’s a law that hasn’t been updated despite new technology such as keyless remotes," he said. "It’s never a good thing, though, to leave keys in a running car without a person being in it, especially if the car is unlocked."

Police around Ohio and elsewhere have reported several cases this winter where people were warming up their unoccupied cars in their driveways, only to have thieves drive off in them.

Byard said his officers haven’t seen an uptick in traffic accidents during the cold weather. He attributed that to not having a lot of snow so far, and the "great job our service department does to keep the main roads clear."

He said he didn’t notice a decrease in traffic on city roads over the frigid holidays period, but said closing the schools Jan. 4-5 likely took some traffic off the roads.

"Under extreme weather conditions, we urge people to stay off the streets if they can, especially during snowfalls," he said.

Health professionals say frostbite and hypothermia are two conditions which may occur when people are exposed to frigid temperatures, and some area hospitals reported cases of both during the cold snap.

If people must go out in the extreme cold, experts say they should limit their time outside, bundle up in several layers of loose clothing, wear mittens rather than gloves, cover ears with a warm hat and wear socks that will keep feet warm and dry.

Hypothermia occurs when the body's temperature drops below 95 degrees. Severe shivering, one of the first signs of hypothermia, is beneficial in keeping the body warm.

But as hypothermia progresses, shivering gives way to drowsiness or exhaustion, confusion, shallow breathing, irregular heartbeat, slurred speech, loss of coordination and, eventually, unconsciousness and even death.

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