As winter weather approaches, officials are offering residents advice on how to stay happy, safe and -- most importantly -- warm this holiday season.
According to Chris Grimes, director of Forsyth’s Emergency Management Agency, temperatures this Christmas weekend could include windchills below zero, specifically Friday night and Saturday morning.
“This is the coldest weather, the coldest air we’ve seen since 2018,” Grimes said. “We just don’t see that very often.”
While the county is not necessarily expecting winter weather such as snow and ice, the temperatures outside are going to get “very cold very quickly,” with highs on Friday and Saturday below freezing.
Officials offered specific safety advice, but Grimes said his No. 1 tip was to be prepared.
If the power goes out, make sure you have enough blankets at home, he said. If you have outdoor animals, bring them inside. If you are traveling on the road to see family and friends, make sure you have an emergency kit in the car.
“My biggest thing is just thinking through plans,” Grimes said. “Always have a plan.”
Don't forget to drip
One of the best ways to get ready for the cold snap is to prepare indoor and outdoor pipes for freezing, Division Chief Jason Shivers with the fire department said, preferably sometime before Friday, Dec. 23.
Cutting off outside spigots and letting them drain or capping them with protective bonnets can be crucial before a big freeze, as water inside the home can freeze and break indoor pipes.
Any outside hoses should be disconnected as well.
In upper floors of homes or indoor places without regular attendance, such as rental properties, cabinets should be kept open so heat can flow into piping underneath sinks.
The best way to fight freezing pipes, though, is to let taps “barely” drip, Shivers said.
“A slow, steady, small drip can be enough to keep pipes from freezing,” he said.
Space heaters need space
With temps below freezing most of Christmas weekend, Shivers said firefighters are preparing for increased calls.
“We do experience an increase in call volume from structure fires, of course, because of these very things I’m [going to warn] about, … but also from carbon monoxide alarms and … in the aftermath, … the broken pipes,” Shivers said.
One of the biggest structure fire offenders during cold weather is space heaters Shivers said.
“With the extremely cold temperatures we’ve got approaching, everyone is going to want to be staying warm, and homes are going to shed off heat faster than many home heating systems are going to be able to keep up with,” Shivers said. “That’s just the construction in the Southeast.”
Shivers said space heaters need to be rated for indoor usage, and outdoor heating systems such as kerosene heaters and gas grills should never be used. Indoor stoves and ovens should also be used only for baking and cooking delicious holiday meals and not personal heating, he said.
“Those kinds of devices are extremely dangerous on a couple of levels,” Shivers said.
Stoves and ovens can produce more carbon monoxide than people can safely absorb and do not appropriately vent in an indoor setting.
Space heaters should also always be plugged into an outlet on the wall directly and never through an extension cord.
Three feet clearance around the space heater is needed on all sides, as placing one too close to a wall, furniture or live Christmas tree can cause fires.
Another form of personal heating can come from fireplaces, and many people, Shivers included, enjoy lighting a fire for heating, ambiance and general Christmas vibes.
Shivers said making sure your fireplace has been inspected and cleaned before the holiday season is a must, as buildups in chimneys can cause major issues.
When burning wood in a fireplace, Shivers also advised against using pine or fir – so no burning your Christmas tree for a seasonal-smelling fire.
“Those pines, those firs … are full of very combustible, high-heat sap, and they will cause a very, very hot, out of control fire in your fireplace really quickly,” he said.
One of the most “deadly” mistakes people make, Shivers said, is burning too much at one time. Protection systems built into chimneys can get overwhelmed quickly and heat can radiate into the walls of a home and cause a fire.
“Be gentle, don’t burn too much wood at a time, and never ever burn things in your fireplace that are not meant to be burned in your fireplace,” he said.
Wrapping paper and cardboard are also on Shivers’ naughty list, as they “burn way too hot … for most modern-day chimney systems.”
Shivers said wrapping paper can also float up chimneys as the heat rises, and scraps can land in gutters with dry leaves, in the yard or on the roof, causing a major outdoor issue.
All wood being burned in a fireplace should be dry, seasoned wood; it should not be green or wet.
Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors should also be properly installed, within date and have working batteries. These devices could save a life this Christmas season.
Risks for friends in fur
Dr. David Sewell, who has been a veterinarian at Crestview Animal Hospital for the past 15 years, weighed in on pets.
Sewell said it is imperative to get animals inside away from the wind.
“We normally say when it gets below 30 [degrees], they need to be in shelter,” he said. “Even if it’s a doghouse with appropriate bedding, they’ll be OK.”
Sewell said his own horses, which never sleep in their stalls, will be inside this weekend as the temperatures dip below freezing.
Horse and donkey owners should also pay attention to their animals wearing blankets, making sure the material does not get wet as wet blankets “do more harm than good.”
Animals that need to go outside during the day should be in the elements only about 10-15 minutes at a time. Older dogs should be outside for less time, possibly about 5 minutes – enough to use the restroom and come back in.
Younger and older animals are particularly at risk in cold weather, with the biggest threat being hypothermia.
“They can experience hypothermia just like humans can,” Sewell said. “They can get cold enough where it can affect their circulation and can cause other medical issues if they’re out there for extended periods of time.”
According to Sewell, some symptoms of hypothermia can include an animal being lethargic, weak, mentally depressed and a loss of appetite.
Sewell encouraged anyone concerned about their animals to contact Crestview or another general practice. Crestview can be reached by calling 770-889-2521.
Shivers said if something is wrong or you are in trouble, never hesitate to call 911.
“Our job is to come and serve you,” Shivers said. “If you have the least bit of concern, if you think you have a leaking pipe from a ruptured waterline or if you smell smoke in your home, … call 911 and let us come out and help keep you and your family safe.”
For more up-to-date information on this Christmas weekend’s weather, visit the National Weather Service at www.weather.gov.
Forsyth County government will also be posting weather updates on social media and its website at www.forsythco.com.
The Georgia Department of Transportation said Wednesday that brine operations are underway in northwest Georgia and will begin in metro Atlanta and northeast Georgia at 7 a.m. Thursday.
Brine operations will continue all day Thursday and into Friday as needed, with the likelihood that most routes will be treated at least twice.
Crews will begin salting metro Atlanta interstates and state routes Thursday evening. Crews will work 12-hour shifts and prioritize treating interstates, state routes, bridges and overpasses.
GDOT will be closing all express lanes at midnight Thursday and reopen lanes as conditions allow.
Motorists are asked to limit travel Thursday into Friday morning. Those who must travel are asked to give GDOT crews room and to be aware brine trucks must travel 40 mph to properly apply the treatment. Stay back at least 100 feet.
Forsyth County’s EMA team met with first responders and other leaders Wednesday at the Public Safety Complex following a briefing from the National Weather Service.
A few ways the county has prepared for the extreme winter conditions:
• Water and sewer plants have been winterized, and staff will be working around the clock to assure services are available
• Roads & Bridges crews are prepared should there be a need to deploy deicing salt.
• Parks & Recreation has winterized facilities and does not have any planned outdoor activities.