The polar vortex bearing down on the Midwest has hit Mt. Pleasant and Washington hard as businesses closed early, and some for the entire day, as temperatures reached dangerous lows.
The National Weather Service recorded the coldest temperatures since 1996 of 30 to 50 below zero Wednesday. Some spots reached 55 to 60 below. Cold wind chills could cause frostbite on exposed skin in under five minutes, the National Weather Service reported.
Rural areas had significant snow drifting on Tuesday and Tuesday night. Combined with the extreme cold, this created life-threatening situations if a vehicle were to get stuck in the snow or otherwise disabled, according to the National Weather Service. Traveling was not advised.
In Mt. Pleasant, Innovairre closed their offices and warehouse on Tuesday, Jan. 29, at 11 p.m. and planned to reopen Thursday, Jan. 31, at 7 a.m., weather permitting.
Scott Slater, vice president at Innovairre, said that the company wants to make sure their employees are taken care of.
“The management team is extremely compassionate to the situation of all our employees,” Slater said. “At the end of the day, we have to do the best for people and the business and focus on safety first.”
Employees could choose to use paid time off during the missed shifts, opt to “just have a down day and not get paid for it,” or make up their hours by working the weekend, Slater said.
Innovairre reached out to their clients before closing the facility Wednesday. Slater said they were understanding and receptive.
Whitesell Corporation in Washington also closed their doors on Tuesday, Jan. 29, and Wednesday, Jan. 30, because of the extreme weather.
“It’s mainly because of wind chill factors and people living out of town,” plant manager Mike Boileau said as for the reason the plant was closed for two days. He said staff was concerned employees would not be able to get their cars started after working second or third shift. “That’s pretty late at night to be traveling in that cold.”
Smaller businesses in the area closed their doors Wednesday as well. Washington’s Cafe Dodici and Dodici’s Shop were both closed Wednesday, Jan. 30. The shop closed at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 29, and is to close at 5 p.m. both Thursday, Jan. 31, and Friday, Feb. 1.
Barista Edward Conway said the decision was made because “there’s just no traffic coming in.”
He said coffee clubs have been canceling, kids are not outside and because school and other businesses are closed, regulars are not coming in either. He said they have cut back on making fresh food and desserts to prevent waste.
Sanity Coffee House, in Mt. Pleasant, has opened late or closed early six days in January because of the weather, according to their Facebook page. On Wednesday, they were open from 5:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Their normal hours of operation are 4:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Chivonne Anderson, owner of Sanity, said she has a young workforce of college and high school students and doesn’t feel comfortable with them driving in bad weather.
Anderson said she has received no complaints from customers. In fact, some have even expressed their surprise to find they were open on Wednesday.
“It’s not a big deal for me to open the doors,” Anderson said. “There are still people at the factories who have to go to work, and I want to be open in case they need a coffee to warm up.”
Anderson said she has seen a “minimal decrease” in sales from closing early.
Iowa Wesleyan University closed their campus from Tuesday, Jan. 29, at 7:30 p.m. through Thursday, Jan. 31, at 11 a.m., citing dangerously cold air.
All Washington County offices were closed Wednesday, Jan. 30, due to the extreme cold; and the Henry County Iowa State University Extension Office closed Wednesday, Jan. 30, and announced they would reopen on Thursday, Jan. 31, at noon. The U.S. Postal Service announced they would limit delivery on Wednesday, Jan. 30.