Ready For The Big Chill?

Bitter Cold, Dangerous Winds Expected

Posted: January 6, 2014

Geese hang out on an iced-over Newman Lake on the JMU campus Saturday morning. They might want to find another spot to perch tonight, when temperatures are expected to drop to zero. (Photo by Jason Lenhart)

HARRISONBURG — With temperatures dropping near or below zero this evening — the Valley is in for a rude, and potentially dangerous, awakening on Tuesday morning. Of course that’s nothing compared to the potential wind-chill factors. Forecasts are calling for 25 to 30 miles per hour, which could make temperatures feel closer to 20 to 30 degrees below zero.

A polar air mass that normally hovers in central Canada, more than 1,000 miles north of Virginia, is expected to freeze Harrisonburg, Rockingham County and the surrounding area with some of the lowest temperatures seen here in more than 20 years.

Although no precipitation is expected to join the sub-zero temperatures, prolonged exposure in the gusty cold severely increases risk of frostbite and hypothermia.

‘Demand Goes Up’

Dominion Virginia Power, which supplies the electricity for Harrisonburg Electric Commission, says it has taken measures to ensure homes will remain heated. The company knows that customers will surely be cranking the heat to compensate for the bone-chilling cold outside.

“The cold weather in and of itself does not cause us a lot of problems,” said Dan Genest, spokesman for Dominion. “When there’s super cold weather, demand goes up and we have to have enough electricity to meet that demand.”

Those who can’t afford to pay for their utilities can get assistance from EnergyShare, Genest said, which relies on donations to help those in need. The Salvation Army is the organization that distributes EnergyShare funds in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. Part of the reason the nonprofit organization works so hard to collect donations during the holiday season is so that money can be used to help heat people’s homes, Capt. Duane Burleigh of the Salvation Army said.

Genest said residents can save money on their heating bills by weatherizing their homes, putting strips around doors and caulking around windows to seal any drafty gaps.


While those who have shelter will be able to escape the cold, the real danger awaits the homeless and others caught outside with no means to warm up.

Although the Harrisonburg chapter of the Salvation Army can’t know for sure if it will see more people than usual seeking shelter this week, Burleigh said the organization is ready.

“We never know if we’re going to have more or not, we’re just ready 365 days a year,” said Burleigh, who runs the local chapter. “We’ll make extra space in our shelter across the street at the church building if necessary.”

In addition to the Salvation Army shelter, those in need of a place to stay can head to the Open Doors shelter, a system of rotating shelter services at churches and other locations around town. Tonight, the shelter is at First Presbyterian Church off Court Square.  

Temperatures are expected to stay low throughout Tuesday, even with expected sunny skies, warming up to about 8 degrees that night, said Bryan Jackson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling.

Contact Kassondra Cloos at 574-6290 or

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