LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Frigid temperatures led state officials to cancel some New Year’s Day tradition activities, warning the public to be aware of the signs of frostbite and hypothermia and limit outdoor exposure.
“You saw those signs about cypress tree knees, and we saw the ice on the water,” Judy Hunt said as bursts of steam clouded the air with each breath.
Of all there was to see out at Pinnacle State Park Monday, crackling fire and a cup of cocoa were a welcome sight for Hunt and her 8-year-old granddaughter Josephine Chung.
“This was my grandma’s request ,” Josephine relayed when asked why she was outside instead of indoors where it was warm.
Hunt and Chung were among the few folks intentionally facing the frigid cold. They had plans to be part of the “First Day Hikes” crowd. Each year, state park departments across all 50 states hold hikes to ring in the New Year. But Arkansas park officials canceled the Central Arkansas event, citing safety concerns. The doggone cold weather on the ground made even seasoned hikers like Stephen Pierce and his four-legged friend realize they needed extra layers to prep for the temperature drop at the top.
“I knew we needed to be prepared. I layered, and have more than one pair of gloves on,” he said, sipping hot chocolate after his hike to the summit. “The parks had put out a warning of only 30 minutes air exposure, and that’s probably because a lot of people don’t realize the temperature difference and how cold it can get.”
At the base of Pinnacle, the windchill by mid-morning on Monday was -3 degrees. So, according to Park Interpreter Kellie Nichols, at the top of the climb there can be a 10-degree variant, meaning double negative digit wind chills. That can cause frostbite and hypothermia if a hiker is unprepared for the elements.
“Layering is so important, and we weren’t sure that Arkansas natives would be prepared for those conditions and temperature differences,” Nichols said. “It’s very likely that those people who were coming to see us were kind of relying on us to get them safely up and down there, but they may have shown up unprepared. We were just concerned about everyone’s safety.”
The park employees still set up a fire at the West Summit Pavilion and offered snacks and hot drinks for those braving the elements. While the bitter cold might have been more than some bargained for, others couldn’t wait to get out here. Tradition, for them, was more important than the threat of cold temps.
“We had about five or six vehicles waiting and lined up at the gate when we opened the park this morning,” Nichols said. “One of the first people to make the hike came back down with frost covering his beard and his jacket. We’ve had a number of people today from up north — think Michigan, Minnesota and New York — who are a little more accustomed to being out in these type of temperatures.”
The Arkansas Canoe Club saw its smallest turnout ever for its New Year’s Day float. In past years, anywhere from 40-50 paddlers would hit the water, even under flooding conditions. Monday, a half dozen souls took to the water.
” It’s a tradition. we don’t feel like we’re lucky unless we get out there,” said Debbie Doss. “So we’re going to be out here no matter what.”
In spots, the stream had frozen on the surface, and the risk of cold water exposure in these temperatures isn’t to be underestimated.
“It’s not for the amateurs, you know?” Doss said. “We have ways to start a fire, ways to get out and warm up. You don’t want to see people get in trouble or experience hypothermia. Those of us out here today are all experienced.”
The coldest day of the year (so far) for 2018 is already testing people’s willpower.
“I said I’m going to get out every day and do something outside every day,” Judy Hunt said, of continuing her tradition to explore all she can of the outdoors.
Those braving the blistering winds today had to prove just how committed they were to keeping those resolutions.
State Park officials do want people to be on the lookout for signs of hypothermia while outdoors. According to Nichols, signs of hypothermia include:
– uncontrollable shivering that will not stop
– shivering that suddenly stops
– slurred speech