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Posted: January 4, 2014 8:46 p.m.

Brrrrrace yourself for bitterly cold weather

Here's a guide to staying safe, warm

Next week is expected to bring some of the coldest weather Atlanta’s seen in a decade, and local officials are urging residents to take precautions to protect themselves, their pets and their homes.

The cold front headed for middle and north Georgia could drop temperatures as low as 7 degrees in Atlanta, bringing some snow and ice, while lingering long enough to pose danger to people, pets and property.

The forecast

The cold front will move in Sunday evening and is expected to drop temperatures below freezing until Wednesday morning.

Some rain is likely late Sunday evening and could turn into a wintry mix

early Sunday with more snow possible after 4 a.m., according to the National Weather Service forecast for Newton County. Sunday’s low is expected to be around 29 degrees with winds getting up to 10-15 mph with potential 30 mph gusts.

After a comparatively mild Monday, with a high near 31 degrees but steady winds in the 20-25 mph range, Monday night’s temperatures could drop to around 11 degrees.

Tuesday is expected to reach a high of 29, with Tuesday night temperatures getting down to 17 degrees, before temps jump back up the rest of the week -— including a high of 42 Wednesday and a high of 53 Friday.

The National Weather Service said Atlanta could see temperatures as low as 7 degrees on Tuesday, which would be the lowest seen in the city since Jan. 24, 2003. The cold weath could send temperatures in the teens all the way south to Columbus.

Roads

Even if Newton County only gets rain, the cold and windy conditions will freeze any moisture on the roads, the National Weather Service said, and officials are urging residents to be aware of black ice.

Newton County school buses won’t be running until Tuesday morning, so traffic should remain a little lighter during what’s expected to be the worst of the storm. Covington and county officials didn’t name specific roads drivers should be aware of, but Covington Deputy City Manager Billy Bouchillon said any streets that receive a lot of shade, like Geiger Street or Lochridge Industrial Boulevard, should be navigated carefully. County Chairman Keith Ellis said shady roads with lots of curves, like Elks Club Road, also pose additional dangers in bad weather.

Both the city and county are more prepared than in years past as each purchased extra equipment after the winter storm in January 2011 that shut down government operations and mail service for a few days. The county now has two sand/salt spreaders and the city has one spreader and one snow scraper.

Both governments keep teams of employees on standby in the event of a storm to go out and clear roads. Ellis said the county focuses on putting sand/salt on bridges first and then focuses on main roads, like Brown Bridge and Covington Bypass roads. The county stores sand and salt at strategic points around the county so employees can deploy it more efficiently. Police and sheriff’s deputies will be patrolling roads and reporting problem spots, but residents can also call to report any bad roads. County residents can call public works at 770-784-2097 or Ellis on his cell at 770-401-6801. City residents can report issues to 770-385-2075.

Water pipes

When temperatures drop below freezing for extended periods, water pipes can freeze and burst. The Weather Channel’s website said pipes that aren’t insulated or in heated areas in Southern states, where freezing temperatures are rare, are subject to freezing once the temperature outside drops below 20 degrees.

Mike Hopkins, executive director of the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority, said one of the best ways to protect exposed pipes that aren’t in heated areas, such as pipes in unheated basements and attics, is to wrap them with foam insulation. Pipe foam insulation can be purchased at hardware and other major retail stores.

Turning faucets on to a slow drip is a common method to prevent bursting pipes, but Hopkins said that’s generally only necessary in older homes.

The key with that method is to turn on the faucet furthest from where the water is entering the home, Hopkins said. So, if the water enters the home in the front of the house, you can turn on the outside faucet at the back of the house; Hopkins said generally it’s only faucets outside the house that need to drip. Hopkins said another tip is to keep the temperature in the house a little higher than normal to keep it constant, to allow warmer ambient air to help keep pipes and other infrastructure warmer. Hopkins said people shouldn’t mess with the water meter boxes, but should call the water authority or their water provider if they notice the lid is broken or water is leaking.

Officials also advised businesses to turn off their sprinkler systems to avoid creating ice hazards.

Personal safety

Outdoor temperatures are dangerous to anyone, but especially children and elderly residents, said Capt. Brian "Jack" Vechart, a shift captain with Newton County Emergency Management Services.

Vechart said bare skin presents the biggest danger as it can lead to frostbite. He said if a person’s skin begins to feel numb, he or she needs to warm up immediately.

A common misconception is that alcohol warms a person up, Vechart said, but it actually makes people more susceptible to cold.

Vechart said small children are more susceptible to the cold, because their heads are so much larger compared to their body mass.

"That’s where we lose most of the heat, through the head, so it’s important to wear a hat and, of course, gloves and things like that (to cover exposed skin)," Vechart said. "The biggest thing is to dress in layers and not be out any longer than you have to be."

Cydnie Taylor, fire educator for Newton County, said people need to bring keep their pets and animals inside during extreme low temperatures.

Taylor also preached safety when using heaters and other sources of warmth. Taylor said anything that can burn should be at least three feet away from a heater, children should be kept three feet away from heaters as well.Portable heaters should be turned off when leaving a room, people should never use ovens to heat their homes, fireplaces should be cleaned annually, and ashes should cool before being disposed of. Jonathan Fuqua, Covington’s fire safety educator, said anyone using a propane or kerosene heater should make sure there is an active carbon monoxide detector in the home.

 Emergency generators

Any Covington resident or utility customers who have life-sustaining medical equipment that is dependent on electricity can sign up with the city of Covington to be on a list to receive an emergency power generator.

Capt. Tony Smith, the city’s fire marshal, said people can call City Hall at 770-385-2000 to get on the list. If they have an emergency and experience a power outage this weekend or before they can sign up, residents should call 911 immediately.

Smith said the city has 10 generators and does its best to deliver the generators while also handling fire calls. Anyone who can afford a generator should purchase one given the limited number of generators and possibility they may not be able to be delivered in a timely fashion.

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