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How Outdoor Workers Minimize The Suffering During Bitter Cold Winters

Jan 3, 2018
Originally published on January 5, 2018 6:51 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today, a winter storm brought snow to Tallahassee, Fla. - the first measurable snow the city has seen since 1989. Forecasters expect the storm to head up the East Coast, and it could be really dangerous with strong winds and a lot of snow. Parts of the U.S. have been struggling with brutally cold temperatures for days now - 19 below zero in Indiana, 32 below in South Dakota, 15 below in Illinois, and that's not counting the wind chill. Reporter Christine Herman is in Illinois and went out to talk with people who have no choice but to brave the record cold.

CHRISTINE HERMAN, BYLINE: It's 8 degrees outside when I meet Aaron McQuillan at his mail truck. Several inches of snow and ice cover the ground outside this apartment building in Champaign in central Illinois. McQuillan's in the middle of his route.

AARON MCQUILLAN: I got my little kit right here. I got shoe grippers. I got heating pads, and I was talking about a Kleenex that actually doesn't exist. I left that at home.

HERMAN: And it looks like he could use that Kleenex since his nose is running. To fight the bitter cold today, he's got on a knit hat with the USPS logo and a hoodie, then his heavy winter jacket over that with another hood. He's wearing one thick snow glove on his left hand, but on his right, he wears a thin glove that's good for gripping.

MCQUILLAN: This isn't my first winter, so I've learned that like, having, six people's worth of clothes on tends to help. Six layers and hand warmers - it's a miracle of science.

HERMAN: On the other side of town, I catch up with Seth Wills in the Walmart parking lot. There's a good layer of snow and ice in the corrals where the shopping carts are stashed. It's Will's job to move the icy carts from the outdoors to inside. He grunts as he pushes a dozen carts that are stuck in the snow.

SETH WILLS: It's really hard to do it in snow, but you just got to know what you're doing and know where you're going and hopefully, you know, look out for cars.

HERMAN: Wills is wearing a green knit ski mask that reveals only his eyes - nothing more. Even though he's only just begun his eight-hour shift, his breath has already condensed onto his mask, forming ice over the area that covers his mouth. He's got on three pairs of socks under his steel-toed boots, and he's battling a cold.

WILLS: I had to come to work today because I had no choice to do that. It's either that or get fired, and I couldn't get fired.

HERMAN: Not far from the Walmart parking lot, Leroy Gatson is working outside today, too. He's with Andy's Towing company and is in the middle of what he expects will be a 13-hour shift. He got his first call at 5 this morning, and slipping gloves over his chapped hands, he's trying to get a car started.

LEROY GATSON: Trying to jump him - dead battery.

(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE STARTING)

GATSON: I just like helping people.

HERMAN: And across the Midwest, there are lots of people today who need help as an unusually long stretch of brutally cold, subzero temperatures, blamed for at least a dozen deaths, continues to stick around. For NPR News, I'm Christine Herman in Champaign, Ill. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.