You are the owner of this page.
A1 A1
Osage 120-pounder Joe Sullivan (right) takes first place in the Top of Iowa Conference meet Saturday, defeating Trey Nelson of Nashua-Plainfield.

Too cool for school? Arctic minus-30 temps, wind chill may lead to more North Iowa closures

MASON CITY | Dangerously cold temperatures and wind chills expected in North Iowa this week could mean more school closures, officials said.

Remember when...? The coldest days in Mason City since 1979
Live road conditions: North Iowa DOT webcams

According to the National Weather Service, wind chill advisories and warnings have been issued for North Iowa through Thursday morning.

“Dangerous, potentially life-threatening extreme cold and wind chills are expected tonight through early Thursday with record cold by midweek,” the National Weather Service said in a report.


The temperatures are beginning their downward trend Monday night with a low of minus-11 and wind chill values as low as minus-30.

Tuesday temperatures will reach a high near minus-8 about 9 a.m. before dropping to minus-14 during the remainder of the day.

Winds from the northwest will range between 16 to 23 mph, with gusts as high as 34 mph. Daytime wind chill could be as low as minus-40.

Temperatures will plummet to minus-30 Tuesday night into Wednesday morning with wind chill values as low as 60 below zero.

Conditions will not improve Wednesday. The high is expected to only reach minus-19 degrees before dropping back down to minus-30 overnight.

“It is very rare to have lows below negative 30 in northern Iowa this time of year,” State Climatologist Justin Glisan said. “In the 126 years of station records in Mason City, the low has only been minus-30 or below 20 times.”

The lowest temperature reported in Mason City, which has been active since 1893, was minus-45 on Feb. 2, 1996.

Glisan said the stretch of days between Jan. 30 and Feb. 4 in 1996 is similar to the cold outbreak that will hit Iowa this week.

Temperatures will slowly rise Thursday and Friday. Saturday's high will approach 40, with lows in the upper 20s.

“Quite the temperature swing from minus-19 degrees on Wednesday,” Glisan said.

There is a projected 60 degree or more difference between Wednesday and Saturday.

Be prepared

“Wind chill values are forecasted to be below minus-50 degrees in northern Iowa,” Glisan said. “This can lead to frostbite in 10 minutes.”

National Weather Service report

According to the National Weather Service, dressing in breathable layers will prevent sweating and is advised if people must go outside. Sweating can cause a body to lose heat rapidly. Staying indoors is recommended.

Cover any exposed skin, due to rapid onset of frostbite.

“Check on neighbors and elderly,” Glisan said. “Cold weather like this may lead to frozen/burst pipes. Leaving cabinets open and faucets dripping can help mitigate this potential.”  

For those who may be travelling, leave the thermostat above 55 degrees.

School closures

A majority of area schools are waiting to make a call on whether or not to close on account of the extremely cold temperatures.

National Weather Service warnings are a measuring stick for closures, so if the warnings are still in effect Tuesday afternoon cancellations can be expected.

Mason City Superintendent Dave Versteeg said that at this point, based on current predictions, the district is looking at "closing Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday."

Mason City Schools announced closure for Tuesday and Wednesday on Facebook Monday afternoon. 

"We don't have a specific policy for temperature or windchill, but our general rule of thumb is a wind chill warning and/or prediction of -30 WC brings on a discussion," Versteeg said.

Darwin Lehmann, superintendent of the Forest City School District, plans to make the call as soon as possible to help parents with planning.

"For the most part when a warning is issued, we either delay or cancel school," he said.

St. Ansgar Superintendent Jody Gray, who is hoping to make a decision by noon Tuesday (at the latest), concurred.

"If the forecast stays true, I don’t anticipate being here," Gray said. "Depending how cold it gets, how quickly. Don’t anticipate any extracurriculars. Can’t see us attending as long as the warning is in effect."

By the numbers  

Much of northwestern Iowa has received below average snowfall since Oct. 1, 2018. Mason City has had 14.7 inches in the 2018-19 season, about 8.7 inches less than average. Month-to-date accumulation is at 9.4 inches, 2.7 inches below average, Glisan said.

Winter has been above average temperature-wise statewide, Glisan said. December was 5.1 degrees above normal.

“Over the whole season thus far, average temperatures have been 3 to 5 degrees above normal for north-central Iowa,” he said.

Mason City’s average high in December was 33.1 degrees, 5.4 degrees above average. The low was 20.2 degrees, 9 degrees above average. The average temperature was 26.7 degrees, 7.2 degrees above normal.

As of Monday, Mason City’s average January high has been 26 degrees, 1.8 degrees above normal. The average low of 6.4 is 3.8 degrees above average. The average high is 18.1 degrees, 2.8 degrees warmer than expected.

“The upcoming frigid snap will bring down these numbers,” Glisan said.

The coldest days in Mason City since 1979

Remember when...? The coldest days in Mason City since 1979

Polar vortex here because of, yes, the heat

WASHINGTON —  It might seem counterintuitive, but the dreaded polar vortex is bringing its icy grip to parts of the U.S. thanks to a sudden blast of warm air in the Arctic.

Get used to it. The polar vortex has been wandering more often in recent years.

It all started with misplaced Moroccan heat. Last month, the normally super chilly air temperatures 20 miles above the North Pole rapidly rose by about 125 degrees, thanks to air flowing in from the south. It's called "sudden stratospheric warming."

That warmth split the polar vortex, leaving the pieces to wander, said Judah Cohen, a winter storm expert for Atmospheric Environmental Research, a commercial firm outside Boston.

"Where the polar vortex goes, so goes the cold air," Cohen said.

By Wednesday morning, one of those pieces will be over the Lower 48 states for the first time in years. The forecast calls for a low of minus 21 degrees in Chicago and wind chills flirting with minus 65 degrees in parts of Minnesota, according to the National Weather Service.

The unusual cold could stick around another eight weeks, Cohen said.

"The impacts from this split, we have a ways to go. It's not the end of the movie yet," Cohen said. "I think at a minimum, we're looking at mid-February, possibly through mid-March."

Americans were introduced to the polar vortex five years ago. It was in early January 2014 when temperatures dropped to minus 16 degrees in Chicago and meteorologists, who used the term for decades, started talking about it on social media.

This outbreak may snap some daily records for cold and is likely to be even more brutal than five years ago, especially with added wind chill, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private weather firm Weather Underground.

When warm air invades the polar region, it can split the vortex or displace it, usually toward Siberia, Cohen said. Recently, there have been more splits, which increase the odds of other places getting ultra-cold, he said. Pieces of the polar vortex have chilled Europe, Siberia and North America this time. (It's not right to call the frigid center of cold air the polar vortex because it is just a piece or a lobe, not the entire vortex, said University of Oklahoma meteorology professor Jason Furtado.)

When the forces penning the polar vortex in the Arctic are weak, it wanders, more often to Siberia than Michigan. And it's happening more frequently in the last couple decades, Furtado said. A study a year ago in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society looked at decades of the Arctic system and found the polar vortex has shifted "toward more frequent weak states."

When the polar vortex pieces wander, warmth invades the Arctic, Alaska, Greenland and Canada, Masters said. While the Midwest chills, Australia has been broiling to record-breaking heat. The world as a whole on Monday was 0.7 degrees warmer than the 1979-2000 average, according to the University of Maine's Climate Reanalyzer.

Some scientists — but by no means most — see a connection between human-caused climate change and difference in atmospheric pressure that causes slower moving waves in the air.

"It's a complicated story that involves a hefty dose of chaos and an interplay among multiple influences, so extracting a clear signal of the Arctic's role is challenging," said Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center. Several recent papers have made the case for the connection, she noted.

"This symptom of global warming is counterintuitive for those in the cross-hairs of these extreme cold spells," Francis said in an email. "But these events provide an excellent opportunity to help the public understand some of the 'interesting' ways that climate change will unfold."

Others, like Furtado, aren't sold yet on the climate change connection.

Northern Illinois University meteorology professor Victor Gensini, who has already felt temperatures that seem like 25 degrees below zero, said there's "a growing body of literature" to support the climate connection. But he says more evidence is needed.

"Either way," Gensini said, "it's going to be interesting being in the bull's-eye of the Midwest cold."

Iowa Business Council: Data suggests strong labor participation, poor diversity


Stability. Of the 25-plus data points and factors included in the Iowa Business Council's annual competitive dashboard, which "measures how Iowa competes nationally," stability of governance is one that most immediately jumps out to council member Bob Ritz. 

Ritz, the president and CEO of the Mercy Health Network, has been on the IBC since July 2017 and asserts that stability matters in all facets of life.

"I think it’s true of organization life and family and home," Ritz said. "When you have stability, you have the ability to improve more efficiently. You can never prevent instability but you can take advantage of stability."

But Ritz believes that stability alone isn't why Iowa placed fifth for "Best Run States" in the IBC's 2019 dashboard. He also thinks that specific policy making on political issues matters a great deal in making a state run well.

"Part of the governance is really related to different policy decisions that have been made," Ritz said. "The way that the state applies its policy position on national issues. It’s where investments are made."

Investments in labor and capital matter a great deal as well and those are two additional areas where Iowa performs well, according to the IBC's dashboard. 

The Hawkeye State placed seventh in labor force participation in 2018, at 68.4 percent with an average unemployment rate of 2.8 percent, and finished eighth (18.1 percent) in manufacturing value as a percent of gross state product. 

And Ritz thinks that one way the participation number could climb even more is if there were more robust child care options in Iowa. Ritz said that a career-ready workforce committee is looking closely at the child care issue and that such research could have a positive impact.

"By default we’ll be able to attract more people to the workforce," he said.

As for GSP, in 2017, the state's GSP was $179 billion. In 2018, that number jumped by $11 billion to $190 billion.

However those specific advancements came as the "State Technology & Science Index" slightly tailed off from 35th in the country to 36th. That specific index analyzes the share of the state's employment that is "connected to science and technology occupations." In 2018, that number was 38.82 percent.

Somewhat twinned with those economic and labor numbers are the IBC's education metrics. Iowa's second in ACT scores (at a 21.8 average) among states with at least 50-percent participation and finished tied for 10th (with Utah) for "high school-plus" education attainment. (High school plus includes: those who have graduated high school, those with some college and no degree, those with an associate's degree, those with a bachelor's degree and those with a graduate or professional degree.)

While the IBC's dashboard shows positive numbers for high school-plus education, Iowa is lagging in "Bachelor Degree-plus" attainment. Just 28.9 percent of Iowans fell into that category (38th in the country), down from 34th in the country the year prior. 

To address that particular problem, Ritz said that "the IBC has launched a business education alliance that brings K-12 educational institutes together." And part of its mission would be to better inform parents and students about opportunities within the state.

One other area where Iowa's national rank was found to have plummeted was in obesity rates. In 2017, Iowa ranked 37th in the nation with 32 percent of its population qualifying as obese. In 2018, it was 47th in the nation with 36.4 percent qualifying as obese. (Only Oklahoma, West Virginia and Mississippi fared worse.)

At that current pace, State of Obesity (a group that raises awareness about the obesity epidemic in conjunction with Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) projects that some 367,691 Iowans will have diabetes by 2030. Hypertension cases would hover around 765,455. 

Ritz believes that addressing this particular issue can't begin soon enough. "It needs to begin even before schools," Ritz said.

"It starts in the home. It starts in the family. And the nucleus of the family. And a commitment to health and well-being. This number tells us that we have a problem. If nothing else, we need to facilitate this conversation. The most frightening part of obesity is childhood obesity because when you have childhood obesity, you have a lifetime issue."

Ultimately though, Ritz doesn't see any one number as defining the entire state.

"As a resident of Iowa, I feel fortunate, about the hard work and the results that show on behalf of the state," he said. "Though the IBC brought this dashboard, this is a dashboard of Iowa." 

Iowa Business Council Dashboard