Brothers Enea Arllai and Andi Arllai, both of Troy, work to jump start a frozen vehicle battery Thursday, Jan. 31, as temperatures plummeted well below freezing with the wind chill.

Brothers Enea Arllai and Andi Arllai, both of Troy, work to jump start a frozen vehicle battery Thursday, Jan. 31, as temperatures plummeted well below freezing with the wind chill.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

When Eagle Land freezes over

How residents, services fared during polar vortex

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published February 6, 2019


BIRMINGHAM/BLOOMFIELD — You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

For many residents last week, that meant going without extra heat in the house, postal delivery and, in some cases, food.

The deep freeze that hit the Midwest and the East Coast was as rough as forecasters predicted, and lots of services were suspended to keep employees and customers alike safe from the frigid wind chill effect that reached as low as 45 degrees below zero.

Among the programs to hit the pause button during the cold was Meals on Wheels for recipients in Birmingham, Bloomfield Township and Franklin. Cris Braun, the director of the Next senior center in Birmingham, which closed Jan. 30-31, said recipients of food from Meals on Wheels are provided with backup nutritional support by means of a case of Ensure meal supplement drinks for emergency situations.

“If Next is available, we also provide frozen meals to be sure clients have plenty of food for a few days when Meals on Wheels is closed unexpectedly,” Braun explained.

Bloomfield Township Senior Services delivered meals as scheduled during the deep freeze, but wasn’t able to get Meals on Wheels recipients their deliveries Jan. 28, when the region was in the midst of a snow emergency.

“We really can’t risk our volunteers, many of whom are seniors themselves, when the roads are that bad,” Christine Tvaroha, the director of Bloomfield Township Senior Services, said in an email. “Tuesday we were able to deliver a box of six shelf-stable meals, along with the hot meal, as Thursday delivery was still in question.”

Along with food deliveries, Bloomfield Township Senior Services facilitated transportation for people unable to drive that week as scheduled, with trips to medical appointments and to and from the township’s senior center for programming. The adult day service for dementia-impacted residents was up and running too.

“It’s so gratifying to work in a community that truly takes resident safety seriously,” Tvaroha said. “(Bloomfield Township Supervisor Leo Savoie) called a meeting Tuesday morning to plan for any crisis that the weather might bring. I was proud to sit with leaders of the Fire, Police and (Department of Public Services) to review how we might handle them, and am most thankful none occurred.”

Birmingham Police Department Cmdr. Scott Grewe said his department didn’t field many calls last Wednesday or Thursday connected to the dangerous cold, but the Jan. 28 snowstorm caused some concern.

“The day after all the snow, our officers assisted a few of our seniors from our Adopt a Senior program by shoveling their sidewalks and driveways,” he said.

Cars that weathered the snow had a second challenge when it came to getting started during the polar vortex.

Nancy Cain, the public affairs director for AAA Michigan, said calls for assistance increased by 270 percent Jan. 28-31 and tapered back down to normal levels last Friday.

“We’ve been very, very busy. We’re getting through our numbers as quickly as we can, but when you’ve got a lot of people calling at the same time for tow trucks, we do have to prioritize those stranded in the middle of the street, since that’s more dangerous.”

Those with vehicles stranded in driveways, unable to start, were greeted on the company’s roadside assistance hotline with a message explaining that technicians would only be responding to emergency situations, and those at home should call back another time.

“We don’t want cars stalled in the middle of the freeway, and our members are very understanding of that predicament. I know it’s frustrating when you’re stuck in your own driveway, but at least you’re safe,” Cain explained.

Requests for assistance were still accepted online and through the company’s mobile app, and many insurance providers have offered to reimburse customers for assistance obtained by private mechanics.

In the end, a lot of the headaches could have been avoided, Cain noted.

“A lot of the calls we received were for dead batteries. And sure, sometimes you can’t avoid that, but if you’re able to check your battery before winter, you really want to make sure you have a good one. Help yourself by being prepared.”

Another way Michiganders can be prepared is by keeping their eyes peeled this week, as our state’s infamous freeze-thaw cycles will likely cause innumerable potholes.

“If you can get through them slowly, do that. We don’t want you slamming on the brakes to avoid potholes, but try to get by them carefully. And when you see them, they’ll likely be there for a while. So you might consider picking an alternate route,” Cain said.