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updated: 2/4/2014 10:02 AM

Cabin fever sets in amid relentless cold, snow

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  • Joanne Kehoe, right, watches while her children, from left, Maria, Anthony and Veronica play with shaving cream on the kitchen table while trying to combat cabin fever, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, in Indianapolis.

      Joanne Kehoe, right, watches while her children, from left, Maria, Anthony and Veronica play with shaving cream on the kitchen table while trying to combat cabin fever, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, in Indianapolis.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- T.J. Rutherford loves to golf, even in the winter. Just not this winter.

With single-digit temperatures and subzero wind chills becoming the norm from the Midwest to the East Coast, often combined with snow or ice, the 59-year-old and his downstate Illinois golfing buddies are no longer just bundling up. They're staying inside.

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"I'm on my third 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle," said Rutherford, who lives in Carterville, about 100 miles southeast of St. Louis. "I haven't done that in a long time."

Cabin fever is setting in for countless Americans as bitter cold, heavy snowfall and paralyzing ice storms keep pounding a large swath of the country. School districts across two-thirds of the U.S. are reporting higher than normal numbers of snow days, while social service agencies are trying to work around the forecasts to get to people in need.

Heavy snow was falling -- again -- in New York on Monday, and up to 8 inches of snow was expected Tuesday in Kansas City, Mo. Later this week, snow was forecast from the Plains to the East Coast, with no break in the cold.

Some records have been broken -- Detroit, for example, recorded 39.1 inches of snow in January, a record for the month -- but the weather isn't especially unusual, said Alex Sosnowski, senior meteorologist for AccuWeather. He said this winter seems worse because so many recent winters have been mild.

"A lot of people probably are going a little stir crazy," he said. "But if you look at the broad picture, this is probably a once in 10- to 20-year winter. We were probably due for it a little bit."

That isn't welcome news for those holed up at home, especially parents whose children keep racking up snow days.

In Indiana, where some schools were closed for a full week in January because of the weather and road conditions, Joanne Kehoe has to entertain her four children, ages 2 through 8, when classes get canceled in Indianapolis. She said it can be especially trying because her oldest is autistic and has a "tendency to bolt" if he is off his routine, so that limits where the family can go.

It helps that her husband, an attorney, can often take time off work.

"We usually divide and conquer," Kehoe said, acknowledging that shoveling snow while listening to e-books provides her "a little quiet time."

Amy Murnan has been homebound with her four children -- ages 8, 10, 12 and 13 -- in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina on four snow days, an unusually large number for a region well-accustomed to tough winters. But she welcomes the break.

"We're really busy and we spend most of the time running around to games and practices and lessons," Murnan said. "So it was actually kind of great for me to have nowhere to be and nothing to do. We don't get that very often."

In suburban St. Louis, students in the Rockwood School District have already missed more than a week of school because of snow or ice. One snow day was called because it was too cold for the buses to start.

"After the eighth snow day, even the kids were like, `We're happy to be in school,"' district spokeswoman Cathy Orta said. "But safety is our first priority."

The weather also has taxed communities' pocketbooks.

St. Louis has already opened the city's main emergency homeless shelter more days than budgeted. In Kansas, county officials keep lists of people who live in areas that tend to become isolated in winter storms, and can enlist the National Guard to help if needed, said Sharon Watson, a spokeswoman for the state adjutant general.

Programs that provide in-home services, such as Meals on Wheels, have had to plan around the forecasts. Sarah McKinney, who runs the program in Athens, Ga., said last week's ice storm forced the program to shut down for two days. Volunteers, aware of the forecast, provided boxed meals in advance, so the seniors had plenty to eat.

The bigger concern, McKinney said, is that the volunteers weren't able to check on their clients.

"We check on these people five to seven days a week and we're seeing them face-to-face," McKinney said. "We don't like to let two full business days pass."

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