Following record low temperatures and a Consumers Energy alert to lower thermostats on Wednesday and Thursday, thousands of Michigan residents faced possible harm due to lack of heating and other necessary resources.
The emergency alert came after a fire broke out at the utility’s Consumers Ray Natural Gas Compressor Station in Macomb County on Wednesday morning. As a result, the company urged customers to reduce their natural gas usage to conserve energy.
On Thursday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer held a press conference with members of her cabinet, addressing the people of Michigan about her administration’s multilateral response to the problems faced during the past week.
Representatives from the National Weather Service, Department of Transportation and Michigan state troopers attended the meeting. According to Gov. Whitmer, the goal of the press conference was to give the public an update regarding her administration’s response to record low temperatures last week, and the plan going forward.
Jim Maczko from the National Weather Service was the first to speak on behalf of his department, explaining the magnitude of conditions faced by Michigan residents as a result of the polar vortex.
“We have had the coldest weather in the state of Michigan since 1994,” Maczko said. “This is a pretty historically rare event for us with regards to the combination of cold temperatures and wind.”
According to the National Weather Service, southeastern Michigan broke nearly a century of temperatures records on Thursday as temperatures reached lows of -14 F.
Maczko stressed while the worst was over, dangerous weather could continue into the next several days.
“Next week we have a pretty big rain event coming; it may create some conditions along our rivers in the lower peninsula that could result in what we call ice jamming,” Maczko said. “It’s not like our typical spring flood season, but if we get the right amount of rain, the right amount of warm, we might see some localized flooding in communities we’ve already been working with.”
Paul Ajegba, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, detailed the actions his department took to ensure safety across the state. According to Ajegba, MDOT has hundreds of workers under its employ, who were mobilized to salt down icy roads.
“For the past 24, 48 hours, we’ve had about 1200 trucks on the roadway around the clock, 300 of them MDOT trucks and 900 local partners,” Ajegba said. “The crew out there is working hard, preparing for when we get through this severe weather cycle, to get ready for some pavement patching. This is very unusual weather we’ve been experiencing, and our crew has been meeting the challenge.”
The temperatures were so low on Thursday that salt could no longer be used to melt ice on the streets. According to Anthony Branch, director of Road Commission Maintenance for Genesee County, workers were only able to plow snow on the streets, and would resume using salt on Friday when temperatures rose above zero.
Captain Emmitt McGowan, commander of emergency management for the Michigan State Police, also assured the public his department would use any and all of its resources to prevent accidents and overexposure to the frigid temperatures.
“In response to the subzero temperatures, we are deploying additional troopers and providing messaging to Michiganders on preparedness,” McGowan said. “We’re recommending jumper cables, additional batteries for your flashlight, making sure you have a spare tire in your vehicle. Things you can use to mitigate a situation.”
The representatives said ensuring the safety of those people without homes was a top priority during abnormal weather events.
Lit Kurtz, a vendor with Groundcover, an organization that raises money for low income and homeless people, told The Daily Wednesday those suffering from housing instability are at increased risk during when the temperature drops.
“Many people encounter severe types of hypothermia, lost feeling in their hands, their feet, their extremities,” she said. “It’s a challenge. It’s all winter long. As long as there’s cold weather, it’s a challenge.”
According to Kurtz, this is a problem the community contends with each year, and has only worsened due to the conditions faced on Wednesday and Thursday.
“There’s just a lack of understanding that everybody needs to play a role in helping people, making sure that everyone is safe,” Kurtz said.
Residents of apartment buildings around the city also dealt with fallout from the extreme weather. Six11, an apartment building on East University Street popular with students, suffered power outages on Thursday as a result of the extreme weather. LSA sophomore Michelle Telsey is a resident of Six11. She told The Daily on Thursday the power was out in her apartment for several hours.
“All of a sudden the power went out,” Telsey said. “You hear screams throughout the hallway, people in the different apartments start peeking their heads out. … It’s kind of the only time you ever see the people in the apartments next to you. It’s funny how in times of stress, that’s when you rely on the neighbors in the other apartments.”