Rockdale is bracing for the cold as blast of Arctic air sweeps through the country. The National Weather Service in Peachtree City has issued wind chill advisories for most of central Georgia due to the forecast of extreme cold, with wind chills in the single digits, until mid-day on Wednesday.
Area officials offered some advice as Rockdale County residents brace for temperatures expected to drop in to the teens and single digits.
"When the weather gets this cold, exposure is the main concern," said Karen Shields, public information officer for the Gwinnett, Newton, and Rockdale Health Departments.
Shields explained how living in the south sometimes means not having heavy coats and other cold weather gear. She suggested those planning to be in the cold dress in layers and bundle up with hats and gloves. Good walking shoes are another necessity.
"Make sure when you do go out that you're properly prepared," Shields said.
That preparation extends to traveling. Shields advised knowing the weather before going out and keeping plenty of gas in the vehicle.
"Keep your cell phone charged up," Shields added. "No one likes to think their car is going to break down, but the last thing you want to see is you don't have any charge on your cell phone."
Shields also brought up the importance of "eating healthfully," during this season. Sometimes the cold weather leads to lower motivation to cook.
Germs are spreading more, as people stay indoors to avoid the cold. And with that, people are reminded to cough and sneeze in to their elbow, what Shields called, "cough and sneeze etiquette."
"Sometimes our younger and older people can be susceptible to colds, so using good cough and sneeze etiquette can keep everyone well," Shields said.
People should always use tissues, throw them away, and wash their hands.
Besides personal safety precautions, people should also keep others in mind.
"If you know you have a neighbor or a friend, give them a call and check on them," Shields said.
To prepare for these extreme temperatures, here are some additional things to think about:
• Hypothermia can occur in extreme cases. The warning signs are uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. If these symptoms occur, seek immediate medical care.
• Be a good neighbor. Check with elderly or relatives and friends who may need additional assistance to ensure their safety.
• To keep pipes from freezing, wrap them in insulation or layers of newspapers, covering the newspapers with plastic to keep out moisture. Allow a trickle of warm water to run from a faucet that is farthest from your water meter or one that has frozen in the past. This will keep the water moving so that it cannot freeze. Learn how to shut off your water if a pipe bursts.
• If using an emergency generator, follow the manufacturer's instructions; always operate emergency generators outdoors and away from any open window.
• Make sure your car is properly winterized. Keep the gas tank at least half-full. Carry a Winter Emergency Car Kit in the trunk including blankets, flashlight with spare batteries, windshields scraper, and jumper cables.
• Be careful driving on any roadways where moisture is present, as it could be ice or black ice.
With cold weather often leading to alternative methods of heating homes, here are some precautions:
• Use only seasoned hardwood. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup.
• Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
• Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or debris in your fireplace or wood stove.
• Never use flammable liquids to start a fire.
• Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
Soak hot ashes in water and place them in a metal container outside your home.
For electric space heaters
• Space heaters need space. Keep items at least three feet away from each heater - in front, behind, above and below.
When buying a space heater, only buy one with a safety feature that automatically shuts off the power if the heater falls over, and that has been evaluated by a testing laboratory.
• Space heaters require a large amount of electricity. When using a space heater, do not plug anything else into the same outlet.
• Never leave space heaters unattended. Turn them off and unplug them when leaving the home or when going to bed at night.
To avoid carbon monoxide dangers
• Never use your range or oven to help heat your home and never use a charcoal grill or hibachi in your home or garage.
• Never keep a car running in a garage. Even if the garage doors are open, normal circulation will not provide enough fresh air to reliably prevent a dangerous buildup of CO.
• Install at least one carbon monoxide alarm with an audible warning signal near the sleeping areas and outside individual bedrooms.
• Check smoke alarms and practice a home escape plan.
The Rockdale County Fire and Rescue division will provide a free, new smoke detector and batteries to anyone who requests one and will come out and install it. Fire personnel will also come and check detectors or provide batteries. For more information, contact the RCFR at (770) 278-8401.
Extra precautions during these extreme cold spells can also make sure your four-footed family members stay safe and warm.
• Keep pets indoors and warm: Pets are sensitive to severe cold, and they are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia when they are outdoors during extreme cold snaps. Exposed skin on noses, ears, and paw pads can quickly freeze and suffer permanent damage.
"The first thing we would strongly recommend is that you bring your dog or cat inside," said Rockdale County Animal Control Director Ciji Baker. But if that is simply not possible, "maybe set up a crate and put it in the garage; put plenty of blankets," said Baker.
If the dog is still kept outdoors, which is not illegal but not advised during cold weather, make sure the shelter is covered on three sides, dry, draft free and raised a few inches off the ground and put plenty of bedding materials for warmth, such as hay or cedar shavings or blankets, inside the dog's shelter.
"We've had calls all day from owners asking what they should do," he said. "We've had people in different neighborhoods donating hay to doghouses."
To contact the animal shelter for more information, call (770) 278-8403.
• Give your pets plenty of water: Pets who spend a lot of time outdoors need more food in the winter because keeping warm depletes energy. Routinely check your pet's water dish to make certain the water is fresh and unfrozen. Use plastic food and water bowls rather than metal; when the temperature is low, your pet's tongue can stick and freeze to metal.
• Help neighborhood outdoor cats: If there are outdoor cats, either owned pets or community cats (ferals, who are scared of people, and strays, who are lost or abandoned pets) in your area, remember that they need protection from the elements as well as food and water. It's easy to give them a hand.
• Be careful with cats, wildlife, and cars: Warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife, who may crawl up under the hood. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car's hood to scare them away before starting your engine.
• Avoid antifreeze poisoning: Antifreeze is a deadly poison, but it has a sweet taste that may attract animals and children. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze (and all household chemicals) out of reach. Coolants and antifreeze made with propylene glycol are less toxic to pets, wildlife, and family. Read more about pets and antifreeze.