Just when the downtown temperature crawled above 20 degrees Tuesday, the sun slid behind the upper floors of the H&R Block headquarters.
That left cold construction crews across the road to toil the rest of the afternoon in shade.
Wednesday, half of the workers aren’t likely to be there at all: Just too cold and windy to build a high rise.
None of the Kansas City public school students will be in class — the district already had canceled classes and after-school activities for Wednesday.
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It was 9 degrees at Kansas City International Airport at 6 a.m. Wednesday and the mercury was expected to drop throughout the day.
But the bigger concern is a wind chill expected to be in the negative teens.
“We are going to have the coldest air mass this season descend over our area,” said Chris Gitro, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill, Mo.
And nobody wants to be on the open-air 12th floor of the One Light Tower project when that happens.
What’s the point, asked JE Dunn Construction Co. superintendent Robert Pinkerton, when it’s way too frigid to pour concrete, to caulk or to spray on vapor barriers?
Many crimson-faced workers who were managing OK on Tuesday would be of little use spending today in and out of the tarp-covered “heat shacks” strategically placed around the construction site.
“I’m wearing two pairs of gloves as it is,” Pinkerton said. “Your hands can’t really do too much with two gloves on.”
Johnson County Library’s branches will be available as warming centers during normal business hours.
Meanwhile, Kansas City residents needing refuge from the cold are encouraged to go to one of the city’s 10 community centers during regular business hours.
For a complete list of warming centers in the Kansas City area, call the United Way at 211 or visit the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services online warming center map.
For bus riders, Johnson County Transit will provide a warming bus at the Mission Transit Center. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority will have a warming bus from 6 a.m. until noon at 10th and Main streets.
Meteorologist Brandon Drake of the National Weather Service in Topeka attributed the cold blast to a triple whammy of high pressure moving down from Canada, brisk northerly winds and the Kansas City region sitting on the edge of a jet-stream “trough.”
Areas of Nebraska and South Dakota in recent days have experienced high-pressure levels seldom recorded, Drake said.
“Whenever you add strong winds to single-digit temperatures it really doesn’t take a whole lot” to get this cold, Drake said.
The high Wednesday will be about 30 degrees below normal.
“The wind chills are going to be the big thing,” Gitro said. “We are going to have wind chills well down below zero values.”
A wind chill advisory has been issued for the metro area until 9 a.m. Thursday.
Wind chills are expected to be 15 to 25 degrees below zero with the coldest wind chills on Wednesday and Thursday mornings.
Winds are expected to be 10 to 20 mph with gusts up to 30 mph.
“For anybody who’s going to be outside, obviously you’re going to need to bundle up,” Gitro said. “It’s not going to take long for frostbite to set in.”
Under our expected conditions for the next few days, frostbite can occur in 30 minutes or less if skin is left exposed, he said.
“We all should be taking it very seriously,” said Lougene Marsh, director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.
Cold weather puts an extra strain on your heart, so it’s a good idea to avoid any non-routine physical exertion that you’re not used to.
“With these extreme temperatures, it’s very easy for situations like dehydration, frostbite or hypothermia to occur,” Marsh said. “These extreme temperatures underscore the need for keeping all of your body surfaces covered.”
She suggested people wear insulated gloves and socks and covering your face with a scarf or face mask. Hats or some type of head covering are also needed.
The crews building One Light Tower at Walnut and 13th streets, which will feature 25 floors of residential units, know the routine when temperatures plunge.
Heavy-equipment operator Kelly McClennan will tuck toe warmers and wool socks beneath her insulated boots. Jerry Hill will stuff heat pouches in his Hot Shot hunting gloves. The workers will keep moving and gravitate when they can to the power tools, which provide a little warmth.
And they consider themselves lucky, working until about 3:30 p.m. A later shift works until midnight.
“You just stay busy. It’s like when it’s really cold at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs don’t want to be standing on the sidelines,” said Pat Lichte, general superintendent of the project. “They want to be out there moving around.”
The second and 11th floors at present have sufficient heaters to allow for lunch breaks and to prepare certain areas for pouring concrete next time the thermometer reaches above 25 degrees for a few days.
Forecasters expect the high on Thursday to come close to that, but temperatures are expected to drop back into the lower teens on Friday. The weekend may see temperatures up into the 30s, Gitro said.
“We don’t really see any significant warm-ups occurring in the next seven to 10 days,” Gitro said. “It looks like we are going to have the cold air that is going to pretty much remain entrenched over the area for the foreseeable future.”
It doesn’t get much better anywhere else.
In Caribou, Maine, a city close to the northern tip of the state, Tuesday’s high was 4 below zero. The low was 6 below zero.
In the northern North Dakota town of Devil’s Lake, the low was 22 below zero, making the day’s high of 3 below seem almost balmy.
A ski resort and family center with outdoor recreation activities in the Duluth, Minn., area closed Sunday because of below-zero temperatures.
The high-pressure system over Canada is expected to move toward the Plains on Wednesday and then slide east, bringing unusually frigid temperatures to the eastern two-thirds of the U.S., meteorologist Jamie Enderlen said.
Parts of Georgia could see low temperatures Wednesday in the teens, and northern Florida is expected to be at or below freezing. From the Dakotas across the Midwest and into the Ohio Valley, temperatures are likely to be below zero.
The Associated Press and Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.
The wrong side of zero
The high Wednesday will reach only about 5, but it’s the wind chill we need to watch out for. Winds gusting up to 30 mph will create wind chills down to 25 below zero.
Kansas City isn’t alone bracing for the cold, as most of the Midwest will be facing temperatures at or near zero while parts of Georgia and northern Florida could see temps below freezing.