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Residents urged to prepare for colder winter

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Georgia Emergency Management Agency's Ready Georgia campaign is advising residents to be ready for the possibility of colder temperatures across the state this winter, in light of a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration prediction.

The winter months can bring weather ranging from strong winds to snow and ice storms, according to an official from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, and the Ready Georgia web site.

"One of the primary concerns of winter weather is its ability to knock out heat, power and communications services," GEMA and Georgia Office of Homeland Security Director Charley English said in a written statement. "Preparation is inexpensive and easy, and can help you avoid these potentially life-threatening situations as it gets colder."

Ready Georgia Spokesperson Sarah Waters said the campaign's advisory is based on NOAA's announcement that there is a greater than 40-percent chance that temperatures will be below average across the Southeast in the coming months.

NOAA Climate Prediction Center Deputy Director Mike Halpert said one reason for the colder temperatures is that it is an El Nino winter. An El Nino is described on NOAA's web site as a "disruption of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific [Ocean]" which can impact weather and climate in other parts of the world.

"An El Nino winter does favor below-average temperatures, and above-average precipitation," Halpert said. He also said it could create abnormal weather conditions in the Southeast, where severe weather typically associated with the spring months is seen during the winter. He said, however, that pattern is more likely in the Florida and south Georgia area.

"There could be a possibility that you see things like tornados, and severe thunderstorms with strong winds and hail during an El Nino winter," Halpert said.

Mike Leary, a forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Peachtree City, said that the 30-day and 90-day forecasts for the metro-Atlanta area show only "slightly chillier" temperatures than the average high of 54.6 degrees, and average low of 34.5 degrees, for the months of December and January.

"It will probably be only a degree or two below the normal temperatures," Leary said. "These are 30-year averages, so it's pretty hard to move them drastically."

On its web site, GEMA's Ready Georgia campaign has several recommendations for local residents, so people can be prepared in case severe winter weather does occur.

Those steps include putting warm clothes and blankets in a family's ready kit to stay warm; allowing faucets to drip "a little" to prevent freezing from occurring; opening cabinet doors so heat can get to un-insulated pipes that are near exterior walls; monitoring radio, television and Internet weather reports; "winterizing" vehicles, and keeping the gas tank at least half full to prevent the tank and fuel lines from freezing.

Another recommendation from the Ready Georgia campaign is for people to make sure their homes are well insulated, and ensure that they have weather stripping around their doors and window sills to prevent warm air from escaping.

Leary said a lack of adequate home insulation is a problem in the Southeast, and cooler temperatures could pose a threat to homeowners. "When we have cooler temperatures, we start getting closer to freezing levels, and houses in the South are typically not that well insulated," Leary said. "That's why heating bills go up in the winter."

Georgia Power Spokesperson Lynn Wallace said the utility company does not see peaks for energy consumption for the year during the winter months, partly because "it doesn't really get that cold here during the winter." An exception is when temperatures dip into the 20s, or lower, she said.

Wallace said Georgia Power is offering free energy audits to customers, where a representative from the utility company will come to customers' homes, if requested, and go through the homes with the homeowners to point out ways energy costs can be cut. A "Do-it-yourself" energy audit checklist is also available on Georgia Power's web site, she said.

Georgia Power is also recommending its customers keep their thermostats set at 68 degrees throughout the winter, Wallace said.

"Every time you raise the temperature one degree higher than that, you're consuming 5 percent more energy," she said. "So, if you set your thermostat at 72 degrees, you're using 20 percent more energy than you would if you set it at 68 degrees, and your energy bill will be higher."

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On the net:

Ready Georgia: www.ready.ga.gov

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: www.noaa.gov

Georgia Power: www.georgiapower.com