By Greg Gelpi

Winter is about being prepared, and Chicago native Hiawatha Patten said he is ready.

Patten, 63, moved to Jonesboro, but he brought with him his cold weather expertise.

"I was born and raised in Chicago, so I'm used to this," Patten said. "You're not going to get anything like frostbite here. I can't even imagine getting little icicles on the end of your nose here."

The cold snap of late fails to compare with Chicago, he said.

He has learned to prevent winter problems by having his air conditioner and heater checked regularly each year.

"A heater is like a car," Patten said. "You have to keep it maintained."

Barry Blair, owner of Blair Heating & Air Conditioning, and his son Brad Blair maintain Patten's system at the beginning of the fall and at the beginning of spring.

"There's a science to it," Barry Blair, who has 29 years of experience, said. "You have to learn about it everyday."

He advised that homeowners check the weather stripping around doors and windows to ensure no leaks. He also suggested that air filters be changed regularly and systems be checked at the beginning of each winter.

Homeowners aren't the only ones preparing and responding to the cold weather. Highway crews, pet owners and funeral homes are also busy.

A drop in temperature usually results in an increase in deaths, Darren Ford, a funeral director at Ford-Stewart Funeral Home in Jonesboro, said.

"It seems like it doubles the business we do in the summer months," Ford said.

He attributed the increase to respiratory problems, heart attacks and the flu.

Ford said the funeral home relies on part-time workers and uses more of these workers during the winter months.

The Clayton County Department of Transportation stocked up on winter materials and checked its equipment in November to prepare for the winter weather, Wayne Patterson, the director of transportation, said.

"We're pretty much ready," Patterson said. "It's just a matter of staying alert."

He doesn't expect there to be ice on the roads this weekend, but crews can be mobilized if problems occur.

"Generally, we can mobilize in 30 minutes and start putting out materials in 45 minutes to an hour," Patterson said.

The Clayton County highway department has stores of sand, calcium chloride and rock dust, he said. Trucks are loaded, and snow blades are attached to the front of the trucks ready to go.

As people bundle up in the cold, they shouldn't forget about their outdoor pets, Cathy Hewitt, supervisor of Henry County Animal Control, said.

"Just consider how you would feel out there," Hewitt said. "They need to be checked on a couple of times a day."

She advised pet owners to prepare bedding for outdoor animals, as well as check on their water bowls to make sure they don't freeze.

Ordinances require pet owners to "provide adequate food and shelter," Charlie Tomlinson, director of code enforcement for the Henry County Animal Control, said.

The Georgia Public Service Commission issued an advisory to help state residents to stay warm in the winter as well as conserve costs.

Set the thermostat to 68 degrees, the commission said. If leaving for more than a couple of hours, change it to 65 degrees. Use extra blankets. Block drafts at the base of doors with rolled up towels or sheets.

The commission also suggested taking shorter showers, closing the vents to unused rooms, wearing long sleeves at home and using the cold water setting on the washing machine.

When cooking, preheat the oven no more than five minutes before baking and use less water and a lid when boiling food, the commission said. Curtains should be opened during daylight, and leaky hot water faucets should be repaired.

Temperatures will continue to drop into the 30s into next week, Von Woods, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Peachtree City, said.

Saturday and Sunday low temperatures are expected to be in the low 20s, Woods said. Highs will be in the low 40s. Skies should be clearing by Sunday night.