Prince William residents deal with single-digit temperatures from polar vortex

Winter, which has not made more than a cameo appearance in the D.C. area in several years, is bac k with a vengeance. It has dumped measurable snow and ice on us. It hit us with lengthy power outages last month. It’s dealt us gusty winds. This week, temperatures dipped to 2 degrees in Manassas. It’s clear that this year, winter means business.

Prince William County canceled schools because of the cold for the first time since Dec. 20, 2004. The county extended hours at one of its homeless shelters to provide respite from the cold during the day. And the government made plans for large-scale emergency shelters in case power outages left residents without heat, according to Jason Grant, the county’s communications director.

Tuesday’s closing was the fourth this academic year for Prince William schools and the second in four days on the heels of winter break. Our kids are running on hot-chocolate fumes, and we are screaming in our pillows with the frustration of trying to keep them occupied. They have whipped through every craft kit they got for Christmas and watched every G-rated movie in our emergency supply at home at least once.

Winter, we are begging you for mercy.

The cold might be good for antifreeze sales, but for the rest of us, it’s just plain miserable.

Snow covers the grounds surrounding the Manassas National Battlefield visitor center. (Sarah Lane/THE WASHINGTON POST)

“I’m tired of it,” said Phil Kavits, spokesman for Prince William County Schools. Kavits has lived in North Dakota and in Syracuse, N.Y., so he is used to the cold. But this week’s weather had him dreaming about Florida, he said.

Kavits said the forecast temperatures were severe enough that school officials thought it would be unsafe for the county’s thousands of walkers to make the trip to school. Thousands more stand outside to wait for buses. It wasn’t worth the risk. So teachers assigned extra homework Monday night and made suggestions for educational activities kids could do at home while they waited out the deep freeze.

The county also took precautions to protect buildings and equipment from extreme temperatures, Kavits said. The thermostats in schools are set to a cooler temperature at night to conserve energy, but they stayed at daytime settings overnight Monday, Kavits said.

The outdoor ice-skating rink at Harris Pavilion in Manassas is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays after the holidays, so it was not an option for parents and children with cabin fever. The recent weather has been good for business, though, said general manager Anna Marie Robinson. The rink was hopping last Thursday when it was snowing and on Friday, when high temperatures only reached the low 20s with gusty winds.

“The only time we close is if there is more water than ice on the rink, or if we have a big snowstorm and we have to shovel off the ice,” Robinson said.

With more than two months left in winter, it could be a long haul. Road crews in Northern Virginia have already mobilized eight times this winter, at a cost of more than $30 million, according to Joan Morris, communications manager for the Virginia Department of Transportation. The budget for the 2013-14 winter is $63 million. Last year, VDOT spent $52 million on treating roads and snow removal, Morris said.

The good news? Temperatures are predicted to be a balmy 55 this weekend. It’s practically a heat wave, and closer to what we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years. And the kids? They’ll be trading their hot-cocoa mugs for bathing suits.

Mari-Jane Williams edits community news for Local Living.
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