Arctic Blast

With temperatures near zero and whipping winds making it feel as cold as 25 below, homeless shelters were crowded and school districts across Ohio canceled classes Monday so students wouldn't have to wait for buses or walk to their buildings in the frigid weather.

"If you have skin that is exposed for 15 to 30 minutes, you're certainly running the risk of getting frostbite," said Mike Dutter, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Cleveland. "The best thing to do is if you have to be outside today is to cover all extremities and dress in layers. And don't stay outside too long if you can help it."

About 240 people spent the night at the Drop Inn Center homeless shelter in Cincinnati, which was packed Sunday evening at dinner time, as hundreds came in for meals and to watch the Super Bowl on a big-screen TV, employee Fannie Johnson said.

Lawrence Wiley, 57, who has lived at the center for five months, said Sunday was the most crowded since he moved in.

"It's going to be crowded all week. Anybody in their right mind wouldn't want to be out in weather like this," he said.

Knowing the forecast called for temperatures well below freezing with a biting wind chill, multiple school officials decided Sunday that students should be off Monday.

"What everybody's concerned about is children standing outside, waiting for buses in a low wind chill factor," Bellevue Schools Superintendent Stephen Schumm said.

"We have a lot of kids that walk to school. We didn't think it was worth the risk," Sandusky Schools Superintendent Bill Pahl said.

Not all children have warm coats and hats, making it unsafe for them to be outside, said Akron Superintendent Sylvester Small, who hoped his Sunday afternoon cancellation gave parents enough time to arrange child care.

Principals and building support staff were at schools Monday morning to assist any children whose parents bring them in by mistake.

"There's always someone who drops off their kids at school," Small said.

In addition to students, school district officials in Warren in northeast Ohio were worried about workers who have to warm up buses and clear parking lots and sidewalks of snow, Superintendent Kathryn Helwig said.

High temperatures in Ohio on Monday were expected to be 5 to 10 degrees above zero along Lake Erie and 10 to 15 degrees along the Ohio River, about 20 to 30 degrees below normal, Dutter said.

Cleveland had a high of 5 on Sunday with a projected high of 6 on Monday, marking the first time the city's warmest temperature failed to reach double digits since a high of 8 on Dec. 22, 2000, Dutter said.

Maintenance workers at Pymatuning State Park near Andover in northeast Ohio were considering installing space heaters at the base of the water tower to keep water flowing to the park's 26 cottages.

"We haven't had cold weather like this in five or six years," said Tom Filbert, maintenance administrator for Ohio State Parks.

Mindi West, a police officer at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, was working Monday on a bicycle. She added a ski mask and scarf to the coat, hat and gloves she normally wears.

"If you have any exposed skin or any exposed area between your glove and your sleeve, you can really feel it today," West said.

The cold swept in from Canada over the weekend, causing plummeting temperatures across the Great Lakes region that bottomed out on Sunday and Monday, forecasters said. Temperatures in Ohio were expected to rebound gradually into the mid-20s by the end of the week, still short of average temperatures for early February, which hover near the mid-30s, said Dave Marsalek, a meteorologist for the weather service in Charleston, W.Va.

"We're going to come out of this deep freeze but we're not exactly going to warm up," Marsalek said.