Most residents were able to enjoy the blanket of white that covered Newton County Friday, because although the flakes were large, the effects were thankfully mild.
Icy roads were the worst problem, and the county’s public works department worked through the wee hours of the morning to salt and sand the major thoroughfares. Jody Nolan, deputy director of the county’s emergency management agency, said an average of 3.5 inches fell across the county, but power outages and accidents were limited.
"It was a pretty uneventful event for the most part. Over the yeas, Snapping Shoals, Covington and Georgia Power have done a much better job of taking care of their right-aways," he said. "Public works was out for most of the night, patrolling and making every effort to keep the roads safe. We were a lot more fortunate than we could have been."
Nolan said on a scale of one to 10, the snowstorm was probably a three. He said snowstorms don’t break off as many tree branches, because as the snow builds up, limbs bend and then the snow falls off. Ice storms are more damaging, because layer after layer builds up on a branch until it finally cracks.
As of Saturday afternoon, most of the snow and ice on the roads had melted, although public safety officials warned that the water would refreeze Saturday night. Residents are cautioned to drive carefully Saturday evening and Sunday morning and watch out for black ice.
Covington Police Department Lt. Wendell Wagstaff said the city only responded to one significant accident, which was a car that drove off the I-20 exit ramp.As far as power outages, Snapping Shoals had about 1,400 in the morning, but only 70 remained as of 1 p.m Saturday. Georgia Power had 26 residential outages as of 2:30 p.m., and had restored power to commercial customers, including Wal-Mart, which had lost power over night.
Covington Public Works Director Billy Bouchillon said the city’s one on-call night employee managed to handle all city calls by himself as of 10 a.m.
Bouchillon said the only city road that his crews had to really sand was Alcovy Road, but he urged residents to be careful when driving on side streets that are mostly shaded.
As of Saturday afternoon, the National Weather Service was predicting a 40 percent chance of precipitation on Monday, with snow before 10 a.m. and then a chance of rain between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
The county offices will be closed Monday for President’s Day, which is a county furlough day. City of Covington offices will be open.
Nolan urged residents to exhibit better emergency preparedness. One of the most problematic situations is when residents who have oxygen machines don’t make sur they have a backup system. He said every storm the county gets several calls from residents requesting generators, but the county has only a small supply. He said that every resident who has an oxygen machine also has a prescription for a portable oxygen machines, which they should keep on hand for emergencies.
"You need to have a three to seven day supply of home O2, or you will end up in the hospital. It’s hard for us maintain fleet of generators. This essential for life and you need to have a backup. We won’t always be able to help you," Nolan said.
He said many residents haven’t experienced big storms in Georgia and individual emergency preparedness is low. He said the last major snowstorm was in 1993 and the last major ice storm, which was much more devastating, was in 1973.
He said people need to keep enough non-perishable food and water in the house to be able to feed themselves for several days.
"A lot of parents are the head of the household, and so on the way from work they stop to get groceries for that night’s meal or go out to eat. People need to realize they need to be prepared, and make sure they have sufficient supplies, like medications and prescription drugs. People are very ill prepared and its amazing how many calls 911 gets for these small storms," he said.
He said people also need to realize that 911 should only be called for an emergency, not to get weather updates or check on power outages. Check the local news and call the power company for that information, he said.
The Covington-Newton County 911 Center received 259 calls between 1 p.m. Friday and 4:30 p.m. Saturday. There were 66 accidents reported during the same time.
"We literally have an entire generation that has not experienced a full-scale ice storm. The day that that happens, and it’s not a matter of if, but when, in today’s times with people just calling 911 for info, it’s going to be bad. Many people in their mid-20s and early 30s have never experienced an ice storm. When they’re snowed in, the roads blocked for miles and the power is out for days, it’s going to be like somebody pulled the rug out from under them."