Area survives polar vortex

Critical need for blood after drives cancelled

By Jim Nowlan
Recent snows followed by the polar vortex caused schools to close for seven days over a two-week period, yet man and beast in the area appeared to suffer little more than glancing blows meted out by the numbing cold.
Yet, blood supplies are in critical short supply as a result of 30 cancelled blood drives across central Illinois in the past 10 days.

Obviously, people don’t take a vacation from illness and injury during bitter cold. If you are able to donate blood, please contact the Central Illinois Red Cross in Peoria, or any blood bank, and schedule yourself to donate.

Cullen Pike of Integrity Heating and Plumbing in Lafayette said he was trying to catch up on water pipes that were still frozen, days later, and that “some old heating units just gave up trying to keep houses warm.”

Stark 100 Schools’ Dr. Nick Sutton noted that the seven days of school closings “play havoc with extra-curricular activity scheduling, and we have to figure out how to make up the lost days, without going too late into the school year.”

What about our feathered friends and livestock, which always appear so vulnerable in below-zero weather?

“There has been quite a bit of mortality among birds, obviously,” reported friend Jeff Walk of Toulon, an ornithologist and lead author of the fascinating book, “Illinois Birds.” “This kind of cold is beyond what most birds are capable of handling.”

“Birds are more likely to starve than freeze to death,” Jeff noted. “With enough food, some birds can turn up the thermostat on their little furnaces and make it through.

“Bird physiology is different from that of mammals,” he added. “Birds need less water than we do to process food, and our recent snows offered them some water.”
But, Jeff added, when the snow becomes crusted over, it becomes hard for birds to peck through to reach seeds. Yet, Jeff said, songbirds such as cardinals can rebuild populations rather quickly, even though the mortality rate of songbird eggs and hatchlings is always very high.

“Cardinals lay four to five eggs in a nest and nest four to five times a summer,” Jeff observed. Yet in the best of times, few make it beyond hatchling stage. If the eggs are not eaten as snacks by many predators, those few hatchlings that make it out of the nest are weak and highly vulnerable until they feather and can fly.

This writer also worried about livestock out in the fields with nowhere to go during the -25-degree weather, so I called News columnist and cattle rancher Jeanne Harland.

“If you see snow on the topsides of cattle,” said the pert Jeanne, “that’s good. It means their hides and fat layer underneath are keeping their body heat in and the cold out.”

Livestock do consume lots more feed during bitter cold, so Jeanne and A.J., her husband and partner in the cattle operation, have to keep plenty of feed available.

“The cold does not have much of an effect on cattle,” added A.J. “We did put extra round bales out in the fields for windbreaks, and we use amazing energy-free waterers.” Cattle can be taught to raise the lids to get to the water, which doesn’t freeze.

In sum, from this incomplete survey of what happened during the polar vortex, it appears that folks and livestock around here, with maybe the exception of our feathered friends, handled the cold okay. As I always say, “Around here, we’re rugged.”

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