Cold weather sticking around

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY -- An arctic high pressure system from Canada brought a cold snap into Southwest Georgia over the weekend -- one that is expected to linger.

Forecasters say residents can anticipate more of the same with temperatures likely to go into the teens this weekend.

While the mercury levels are lower than people might expect to see, it is the extended timeframe that is baffling experts.

"It can certainly get this cold; the length of cold (weather) is unusual," said Parks Camp, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tallahassee. "As far as actual temperatures go, we are not setting any records."

There is even a slight chance of rain or snowfall sometime Thursday, Camp added.

"I wouldn't expect accumulation," he said. "We will continue to watch (the system), but it looks pretty minor."

A hard freeze warning was in effect Monday, with another one possible today. A hard freeze warning means temperatures will likely drop into the mid 20s or lower for two or more hours with a prolonged period of sub-freezing temperatures.

In Southwest Georgia, most people are familiar with the dangers related to severe heat but may not be as prepared to cope with cold weather. With temperatures falling below freezing, area health officials are warning residents to take precautions to avoid cold-related illness.

Experts say hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature, is a significant risk. When a person is exposed to cold temperatures, their body loses heat more quickly than it can produce it. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up the body's stored energy, affecting the ability to move and clouding the brain's ability to think clearly.

"People who don't have heat or are outdoors for an extended period of time can become a victim of hypothermia," said Dr. Jacqueline Grant, director of the Southwest Public Health District. "It's a very risky condition; people can die from it."

Symptoms of hypothermia in adults include shivering, exhaustion, fumbling, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. In infants, symptoms include bright red, cold skin and very low energy.

The point in which a person stops shivering is when the condition can become deadly, Grant said.

"That is when they've lost the sense that they are extremely cold," she said. "They can fall asleep and die."

Those most at risk of hypothermia include elderly people with inadequate food, clothing or heating; babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; people who remain outdoors for long periods of time, such as homeless people and hunters and; people who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.

Dangers associated with sub-freezing weather lurk both outdoors and indoors. When people rely on space heaters or fireplaces to stay warm, the risk of household fires increases. Additionally, the economic downturn means more people may be doing without heat or may be homeless.

Combustion heaters like fireplaces, kerosene heaters and wood stoves should be properly vented and chimneys should be clear so smoke or fumes don't back up. Space heaters should not be used if they produce sparks or have damaged electrical cords. People who use space heaters should not place them near flammable objects such as curtains or furniture.

"Using (heating units or fireplaces) not being attended to can lead to fire," Grant said.

People using alternative heat sources should also be aware of the danger posed by an odorless and colorless gas known as carbon monoxide, Grant said.

"It comes in slowly. People get sleepy and drowsy and don't realize they are being exposed," she said. "It's a silent killer."

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, light-headedness or nausea. Anyone suspecting carbon monoxide poisoning should open doors and/or windows and seek emergency medical treatment.

"Getting out of the situation early can reverse the effect," Grant said.

Cold weather gear includes a hat, a scarf or knit mask to cover the face and mouth and mittens, which are warmer than gloves. People should wear several layers of loose-fitting clothing, and the outer layer of the clothing should be wind-resistant. It may also be a good idea to keep a coat or a blanket in the car in case of an emergency, Grant said.

Today's forecast had the high at 44 degrees with a low of 21 degrees. Wednesday's forecast calls for a high of 46 degrees and a low of 25 degrees. A high of 49 degrees is expected for Thursday, with a 20 percent chance of precipitation.