By Jason A. Smith
Freezing temperatures on the horizon in Georgia have led state and local agencies to issue words of caution for area residents seeking to protect themselves, and to save money.
The National Weather Service office in Peachtree City is reporting that the state may experience its coldest winter weather thus far, between Wednesday and Friday. High temperatures are not expected to exceed the low 40s, and lows could dip into the teens.
According to forecaster Laura Griffith, high pressure from the east coast in recent weeks kept temperatures "more seasonal" on Monday. She said weather conditions will likely take a significantly colder turn in the coming days.
"Low pressure over the northern plains, and the cold front associated with it, will be pushing into the Southeast this week," said Griffith. "It has a northwest flow, which means cold temperatures will be ushered in Wednesday through Friday."
The forecaster said no precipitation is expected to accompany the cold front to the Atlanta area, and that only minimal amounts are expected in the north Georgia mountains.
Still, Griffith pointed to Thursday's predicted low of 18 degrees Fahrenheit, and urged residents to use wisdom in planning their activities.
"People should limit the amount of time they are exposed to the outdoors without being properly clothed," she said. "We're not nearing record lows, but it will be quite a bit colder than we would normally see for this time of year."
This week's forecast has also generated a response from the Georgia Power Co., which is not expecting the cold weather to disrupt power to customers.
Still, company spokeswoman Carol Boatright said the impending freeze could present a different set of problems for residents. According to her, lower temperatures often result in higher heating bills, as people attempt to compensate for the change in the weather.
In anticipation of residents' seeking to compensate for the colder temperatures, the company is advising homeowners to keep their thermostats set at 68 degrees.
"You add 5 percent to your heating bill total, for every degree above 68," said Boatright. "You should dress in layers around your home, so you can either put on, or take off, garments, rather than bumping the heat up and down constantly."
Boatright said using a humidifier in the home would allow residents to reduce their thermostats "without feeling as cold."
She said, as the cold front approaches, homeowners should verify that the dampers in their fireplaces are closed when they are not in use, and should seal any cracks which are evident in windows and doors.
The Georgia Department of Transportation is also gearing up for cold weather by alerting residents and businesses about a potential danger on the roads. Mark McKinnon, GDOT's media coordinator for the Atlanta region, said crews will be on the lookout for the presence of black ice resulting from sprinkler systems' being left on overnight.
"This time of year, we always try to alert businesses to turn off their sprinkler systems, so water doesn't get into the road," he said. "We're not expecting the roads to ice over, but in colder temperatures, any water can be a problem."
McKinnon said motorists should be careful to avoid black ice, and should call 511 to alert authorities regarding active sprinklers, until the cold front subsides.
Local residents are also encouraged to take steps to shield their outdoor plants from the elements. Frank Hancock, the agriculture and natural resource agent for the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension's office in McDonough, said recent weather trends, coupled with the impending arctic blast, could have a negative impact on gardeners' efforts.
"We've had so much warm weather and rain lately, a lot of plants are thinking it's springtime, and are starting to sprout," said Hancock. "With this cold snap, people who have small plants that are showing signs of blooming should try to cover them with pine straw or mulch."
The extension agent added that residents should bring outdoor plants inside, until warmer temperatures return to the area.