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Summit Cove Elementary School students board school bus following the last class of the day amid cold temperatures, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, in Dillon. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Forecasters are warning that Thursday could be the coldest day Denver has felt in more than three decades, anticipating a blast of bitter cold, arctic air that is expected to affect the entire state.

The Colorado Sun has gathered important information to answer questions and help keep you safe ahead of the upcoming deep freeze. 

Have a question that we didn’t cover? Email me at oliviaprentzel@coloradosun.com and I will try to help you find an answer. 

When is the cold front coming and exactly *how cold* will it be?  

Thanks to an incoming arctic cold front, bitter cold temperatures are expected across most of the state, starting Wednesday night through Friday morning. Strong winds will create dangerously low temperatures for the Denver metro area, the Front Range and Eastern Plains.

Along the Front Range, wind chill (how people feel when they go outside) is predicted to drop to minus 30 degrees, according to the National Weather Service’s Boulder office. The forecast high in Denver is minus 5 degrees Thursday.

To the west, wind chill in Buena Vista could drop to minus 9 degrees, minus 20 in Vail and minus 14 in Aspen. 

The coldest temperatures are expected over the northeast plains, where the wind chill could drop to minus 50, according to the National Weather Service’s Boulder office. 

If the forecasts hold up, the wind chill would mark the coldest Denver has ever seen, since the NWS office began recording such statistics in 1975, according to 9News meteorologist Chris Bianchi. Denver has never recorded a wind chill below minus 45 degrees and only twice has the city registered a wind chill at or below minus 40 degrees (1979 and 2007), the meteorologist said on Twitter

What is wind chill?

Wind chill describes how the combined effect of wind and cold feels on exposed skin. (Specifically, the uncovered face of someone 5 feet tall.) The National Weather Service calculates wind chill with a simple equation: multiply the wind speed by 0.7 and then subtract that value from the air temperature. So, if it is 20 degrees out and the wind is blowing 25 mph, it feels like 3 degrees on your skin. 

You can use the NWS calculator to assess your misery in real time: calculator. NWS rounds temperatures up, so your math might be a half-degree different than the calculator presents.

How quickly can frostbite set in?

If extreme cold sets in as expected, people should limit time outside, especially if any skin is exposed. At minus 5 degrees and a wind speed of 30 mph, you could get frostbite in about 10 minutes, according to UCHealth. 

Frostbite first affects exposed areas of the body where blood circulation is limited, like your fingers, toes, nose and ears. To limit frostbite, make sure all body parts are well covered. 

When frostbite starts, you will lose the feeling in the area and the frozen tissue will turn white or look pale. If you suspect you are experiencing frostbite, hold the frostbitten area closely against warm skin to help return blood flow and warmth to the area, the National Weather Service advises.

Dress in multiple layers of warm clothing, including a hat, mittens, scarves and boots, to reduce the chances of hypothermia. 

When is it too cold to walk your dog?

Even for dogs, the forecasted temperatures are dangerous. 

Exposed skin on dogs’ noses, ears and paw pads are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia during extreme cold weather, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Dogs with short hair can feel more comfortable wearing a sweater, even during short walks.

Rock salt and other chemicals used to melt ice can irritate your pet’s feet. The Humane Society suggests wiping all paws with a damp towel before your pet can lick them.

Bring all pets inside and move livestock to a sheltered area with nonfrozen water to drink. 

How should I prepare my home for the deep freeze?

If you have plumbing that is susceptible to freezing, open kitchen and bathroom cabinets under sinks to expose pipes and turn your faucets on to a slow drip. 

How cold does it have to be to cancel school?

While there are no set laws or guidelines that require schools in Colorado to cancel school due to cold temperatures, school districts consider weather conditions to decide whether to delay school or close for the day. Extreme temperatures can cause school districts to cancel after-school activities or limit recess, according to Jeffco Public Schools.

Keep an eye out for announcements from specific districts. 

Will my car be affected by the cold?

Extremely cold weather can affect your car, even if it works fine in normal weather. To help, make sure fluids in your car are topped, including a full tank of gas and windshield fluid that is made for cold temperatures, AAA recommends. 

Make sure tires are properly inflated as cold air reduces tire pressure by about 1 or 2 pounds per square inch for every 10 degrees the temperature drops, according to AAA. Underinflated tires can impact steering and traction on the road. 

How cold is too cold for chickens?

There’s no magic number for this question, but chickens may be more resilient than you think. 

Ahead of extreme temperatures, make sure your chickens have fresh water that isn’t frozen and proper ventilation inside their coop to allow moisture to escape, Backyard Poultry suggests. (Avoid drafty coops). 

But chicken frostbite is a thing. 

To help protect your chickens, try applying Vaseline or other thick salves to exposed areas and check on them throughout the day. Wind barriers around the coop can help with wind chill, and straw and hay places on the ground inside the coop can help the chickens from being exposed to the frozen ground. 

Olivia Prentzel

Olivia Prentzel is a general assignment writer for The Colorado Sun. Email: oliviaprentzel@coloradosun.com