By Amy Bickel The Hutchinson News PRETTY PRAIRIE - Doug Wewe's back was killing him. At midmorning Friday, the Pretty Prairie rancher already had chopped open ice on seven ponds and water tanks so his cattle could get a drink. In fact, swinging an ax to break frozen waters has become a daily routine for Wewe and other ranchers across Kansas' rural landscape with this winter's frigid temperatures. "We chop and we chop in the same spot every day," he said. "Today it was two inches thick, and that was just in a 24-hour period." Friday, he added, might as well have been a heat wave. It was a "high" 40 degrees Friday. This weekend, Wewe will brace wind chills of 10 to 25 below zero when he goes out each morning to feed his cattle, as well as to chop at the ice. The weekend's forecast has prompted warnings by state officials that residents should avoid exposure to the bitter cold. For the state's more than 6 million head of cattle, which are built to take the chilly days, ranchers like Wewe are making sure they have extra food, water and wind block - especially when it is going to be this cold. "We put some straw bales to make a windbreak, six or eight in a row," Wewe said of one field, adding that he moved 82 head of calves Thursday to an area more protected from the weather. "This wind is what hurts us."   Colder-than-normal December On Friday, Kansas Division of Emergency Management officials urged Kansans to prepare for some snow, as well as dangerous subzero temperatures and wind chills this weekend through Monday. According to state officials, winds of 20 to 25 mph could bring wind chills of 10 to 30 degrees below zero across areas of the state Sunday night. "This is an extremely dangerous forecast, and taking precautions to ensure your safety and your family's safety is essential," Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, director of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management and adjutant general, said in a release. "Simply put, these temperatures and wind chills can be deadly." Mick McGuire, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Wichita office, said around Hutchinson temperatures would hit 5 to 10 degrees tonight, with wind chills around 5 to 10 below zero. When residents awaken Monday morning, however, "wind speeds of 15 to 20 mph will send the wind-chill index to 20 to 25 below zero in the Hutchinson area," McGuire said. He said it was the 17th coldest December on record for the Wichita area, whose records date back to 1888. The average temperature for the month has been 30.2 degrees, compared to 37.5 in 2012. The coldest December on record was in 1983, when the average temperature was 16.3 degrees. Second on the list was December 2000, which averaged 23.9 degrees. Kansas Department of Health and Environment spokeswoman Miranda Steele said that to date this season, the agency's Office of Vital Statistics has recorded four death certificates in which hypothermia was listed as either a direct cause or a contributing factor in the deaths. Last winter, the agency received 15 similar death certificates. Thankfully, this cold spell shouldn't last long, McGuire said. While Monday's high is expected to be 15 degrees, by Tuesday the high should reach freezing. On Thursday, the high will again be near 40 degrees, he said.   Tending to livestock While the temperatures may not seem fit for man or beast, Wewe will be up each morning, dressed in his coveralls, hat, warm gloves and insulated boots to check and feed his animals. He and one employee haul 1,000 gallons of water every day to fill stock tanks that water his 500 yearlings on wheat and 300 cows that graze stock fields and winter pastures. "The biggest pain is breaking the ice on the seven ponds and seven tanks every day," he said, noting, "It takes two of us." He leaves the truck running, he said, jumping in to get warm every so often to warm up. His son likes to go with him, though, so he can skate on the frozen pond. As temperatures drop even colder, Wewe expects he will be chopping to open water in the evenings, as well. At least, he added, calving season is still a month away. Maybe by then it won't be as cold. But while he could dream of the warmer weather of summer, he says he just focuses on the present. "We work with what we get," he said.   *** Kansas Division of Emergency Management officials are urging Kansans to prepare for snow and dangerous subzero temperatures and wind chills this weekend into early next week. The National Weather Service is forecasting two cold fronts, with the first bringing colder temperatures into Kansas today as well as snowfall accumulations ranging from a quarter inch to an inch and a half. Then dangerously low temperatures are expected to move into much of the state Sunday, with winds of 20 to 25 miles an hour and wind chills of 10 to 30 degrees below zero Sunday night through Tuesday morning. Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, director of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management and adjutant general, advises that those traveling should take with them a charged cellphone and plenty of items to keep them warm if their vehicles stall. Keep vehicles full of fuel. Those same precautions should take place in the home, as well, in case electricity would go out, he added. That includes keeping on hand extra blankets, nonperishable foods, bottled water, flashlights and a battery-powered radio. Residents should also have a first-aid kit, extra batteries and medicines on hand, as well as a safe, alternate heat source. Hutchinson Fire Department Deputy Chief Doug Hanen said those using heaters indoors should make sure they aren't overloading a circuit. Also, propane-type heaters meant for the outside should not be used indoors. Hanen also noted that those with fireplaces should have their chimneys checked. A New Year's Day fire on Main Street was caused by a crack in the firebox. Meanwhile, state officials also advise that those with outdoor pets that are especially vulnerable to bitter cold temperatures should bring them indoors or make sure they have a draft-free enclosure with a straw-type bedding that is large enough for animals to sit and lie down in, but small enough to hold their body heat. For more information, visit www.ksready.gov or www.redcross.org.