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Cold Snap; How Frigid Temperatures Affected Door County Residents

From the National Weather Service

By just 2 pm on Tuesday, Jan. 7, the second day Door County was blasted with temperatures well below zero degrees, nine people had already called We Are HOPE asking for emergency heating help. The Sturgeon Bay nonprofit even had to bring a former employee back to help with the surge of calls.

“It’s just been unbelievable,” said Sandy Duckett, We Are HOPE CEO.

We Are HOPE helps people who can’t afford basic shelter get assistance to pay for rent and utilities. Since Oct. 1 the nonprofit has helped almost 800 local families – a 12 percent rise from last year.

This week’s cold weather affected most of the county – schools and businesses closed, cars wouldn’t start, pipes froze – but most jobs can’t be put on pause for extreme cold.

The workers at Schopf’s Hilltop Dairy in Carlsville bundled up to spend their shifts milking cows, running equipment, sometimes outside and sometimes in one of the dairy’s barns.

“Most of our barns are enclosed, or we can close the sides on them,” said owner Dennis Schopf. “The water has heaters so it keeps from freezing, but if one quits you have to fix it.”

Things turned out well at the dairy. The pipes didn’t burst, the cows’ water didn’t freeze, and no major machinery broke.

“You still have to run the machinery outside and you still have to pump the manure and run the scrapers in the barn. Stuff like that is what you have to watch close, it freezes up,” Schopf said. “The big thing is maintenance before it gets cold. Make sure the furnaces are maintained, make sure… the boiler is going. There’s stuff that quits when it’s cold but you try to do maintenance so that it’s ready to go when the cold is here.”

Schopf said his modern dairy barns, which have curtains to block the wind, walls and moveable vents to trap the animals’ body heat, are more efficient than old, wooden barns. He said even in the coldest parts of the week it probably stayed 15 degrees above zero in the barns.

Fifteen degrees may be about the temperature Pat Nash, news director for The Lodge radio station, experienced when the power went out in his Sister Bay apartment early in the morning on Tuesday, Jan. 7.

According to Lisa Prunty, public relations manager for Wisconsin Public Service, 244 customers in the Sister Bay area were without power when a stressed utility pole failed. Once a crew was dispatched, it took them about 90 minutes to restore power.

The power shut off around midnight, Nash said. At the time he had most of the lights off, had turned his heat down a little and was watching ESPN. Soon, the lights went out, and he was left with one thought: “Oh no. What am I supposed to do now?”

He didn’t have a thermometer inside, and Nash spent most of the six hours without power huddled awake under blankets until the power and heat kicked back on at 6 am.

The closure of county schools for three consecutive cold weather days is a first. The state allows for two emergency days without makeup required, but when the doors remained closed on Wednesday, a makeup day will be required.

“We had 10 cases of gas line anti-freeze at the start of the day and I’m looking at two cases now,” Paul Schwertsig said. “The weather is good for our sales.”

With plenty of warning for the arctic vortex that brought the frigid weather, Fred Young of Young Automotive in Sturgeon Bay said his customers were prepared for the wintry blast.

However, he said his business did have a run on car batteries.

“Our service manager said we sold about 14 batteries in a 24-hour period,” Young said. “Normally we might do half that in a week. One of the bigger challenges for us, with vehicles coming in and out, is keeping the building warm for our technicians.”

Paul Schwertsig, counter salesman at Carquest in Sturgeon Bay, said there has been a run on batteries, gas line anti-freeze and diesel anti-gel products.

“We had 10 cases of gas line anti-freeze at the start of the day and I’m looking at two cases now,” he said at mid-day Tuesday. “The weather is good for our sales.”

Paul Kordon of Summit Plumbing found himself in crawlspaces during the cold spell, hunting for frozen pressure valves and pipes.

“A lot of stuff froze up and there has been some flooding,” he said. “You get the wind blowing on these old stone foundations, that’s what causes the problems.”