From tropical to arctic

A sudden and steep drop in the temperature changes some routines for outdoor workers
Wednesday, January 7, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:11 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

When temperatures slid from 70 degrees to 4 degrees in a matter of days, outdoor workers had some adjusting to do.

Temperatures topped out at 71 degrees on Friday and dipped down to 4 on Monday. Both numbers are far outside the average temperature of 20 degrees for January in Columbia.

It is difficult for builders to adjust to such a cold snap, said Robert Grove, general field supervisor at Little Dixie Construction Co.

“It really is hard for them when we have abrupt changes in the weather,” Grove said. “It takes them a while to get used to it. Most of the trouble we have is with equipment — it can be tough to get it started.”

Richard Knipp Construction Manager Steve Shufelberger said his workers headed inside Monday.

“We had work to do in the exterior, and we decided warmer weather has to be down the road,” Shufelberger said. “There are certain things you just can’t do in cold weather. Today we decided just to go inside.”

Shufelberger’s team will see temperatures rise a bit. The National Weather Service predicts highs around 40 degrees today, Thursday and Friday, and Saturday and Sunday’s highs will be about 45 degrees.

In the mean time, Shufelberger’s said his crews use kerosene heaters and bundle up on icy days.

However, last weekend’s 70-degree weather gave builders the opportunity to do outside work that is usually impossible this time of year. Shufelberger said his crew finished some re-roofing projects.

“It warmed up enough for our roofing tar,” he said. “Today you can’t even do that. You can’t apply things like roofing tar in this weather. The same as caulking. It just gets too thick.”

Last week’s unseasonable warmth gave some builders the chance to work comfortably and quickly outside, said Shane Whitaker, a supervisor at Break Through Construction.

“Everyone wants to bust it real hard, especially the people who work outside,” Whitaker said. “Everybody pushes real hard during the warmer days.”

Some things, like trash collection, rarely can stop for weather, said Dennie Pendergrass, chief of operations for Columbia Public Works. Pendergrass said he can remember just two or three times that trash collection was stopped or delayed as a result of snow and ice.

“Some things we can work around, we just postpone them until the weather gets a little warmer,” Pendergrass said. “Generally, guys and gals are just told if they have to be out to be careful.”

Although workers can get chilled to the bone in Columbia, Whitaker said he is lucky to be here, where base temperatures rarely drop below zero. But the wind chill can have a drastic effect, he said. Work continues when a blustery day feels like -2 degrees, as it did on Tuesday. His workers wore layers of warm clothing and drank hot coffee or cocoa to keep cozy.

“We work in increments of three to four hours, then take a break and warm up, and go back to work,” Whitaker said. “We work regardless.”

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