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How to keep safe as extreme winter weather approaches

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A brutal winter storm is on the way and expected to impact much of the eastern half of the country. The National Weather Service expects life-threatening wind chills for millions of Americans and possible blizzard conditions in the Midwest.

Well, here to tell us more about the storm and how to stay safe this holiday season when it is really cold outside is National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Ahasic. Welcome.

ERIC AHASIC: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: All right. I just said a blizzard is coming to the Midwest. I'm seeing some forecasts talking about how that could turn into a bomb cyclone. Would you just lay out what is the National Weather Service forecast, and what's it going to mean?

AHASIC: Yeah. So in the Dakotas, Minnesota area, we're going to see windchills as low as -40 to -50.

KELLY: Wow.

AHASIC: As that arctic air moves east - right? - we'll see windchills -20 to -30 over much of the Midwest, Great Lakes area. But we did see windchills at zero or even below zero as far south as deep into Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, which is not typical for those parts of the country.

KELLY: Eric, I'm told you are - aside from your main gig as a meteorologist, you're also a "Jeopardy!" champ.

AHASIC: I am a "Jeopardy!" champion as well. Thank you for mentioning it.

KELLY: I will put you on the spot then. Congratulations, by the way.

AHASIC: Thank you.

KELLY: I'll put you on the spot and ask windchill of those temperatures, -40, -50, how quickly can a person get frostbite?

AHASIC: Right. So that's the real hazard with these wind chills is when it's windy, it makes the cold even worse for your body. And so when we're talking windchills of -40 to -50, any exposed skin can get - start getting frostbite in as little as 10 minutes. You just need to make sure that all of - any exposed skin is covered, dress in layers, limit your time outside if possible. Because - yeah, like, 10 minutes or so in the Upper Midwest and even parts of the South that, you know, really aren't prepared for wind chills this cold, you know, it won't be the life-threatening wind chills that we're going to see up in Minnesota, the Dakotas but certainly health hazards are possible.

KELLY: OK. So you're saying don't go outside if you don't have to. If you have to, cover up - gloves, hat, all the rest. Other just common-sense precautions people may not be thinking about as they prepare for this cold?

AHASIC: If you have pets and livestock, you know, that you typically, you know, keep outside, you know, it's cold for them as well. So if you're able to try to, you know, bring them into a warm place, that's ideal. If you're in a part of the country that will be seeing the winter storm warnings or the blizzard warnings from the snowy part of the system, ideally, you're just not traveling at all during the times those advisories and warnings are in effect. Please follow your local National Weather Service or local news station for the latest information on those.

Otherwise, you know, we still have a few days before, you know, Christmas and the holidays really begin. So if you can change your travel plans, maybe leave before the worst conditions or leave after the worst conditions, you know, there's still some time to be flexible on that. Just you really want to avoid trying to be on the roads during the heart of this system, especially in parts of the Midwest and Northern Plains because we are going to see really rough conditions for mostly Thursday and Friday for Midwest and Upper Midwest and then Friday, Saturday for those lake effect snow regions of the Great Lakes.

KELLY: Eric Ahasic, he is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, talking to us from Minnesota's Twin Cities. Thank you, Eric.

AHASIC: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Vincent Acovino
Ashley Brown
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Mary Louise Kelly
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.