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Southwest Georgia prepares for winter storm

Freezing rain, sleet, ice and snow expected early Wednesday morning

With a winter storm predicted tomorrow crews from Albany’s Water, Gas and Light Commission, work to keep trees trimmed to avoid potential iced limbs from falling onto power lines. WG&L crews are on standby 24 hours a day, seven days a week to handle any power issues that might occur. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

With a winter storm predicted tomorrow crews from Albany’s Water, Gas and Light Commission, work to keep trees trimmed to avoid potential iced limbs from falling onto power lines. WG&L crews are on standby 24 hours a day, seven days a week to handle any power issues that might occur. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

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Should an expected winter storm hit Albany this week, crew’s from the city’s Water, Gas and Light Commission will be ready to handle any potential power outages. WG&L Assistant General Manager of Customer Relations and Marketing Lorie Farkas said in the event of a large scale power outage, crews would be able to have things back up in a timely manner, noting it would be nothing like outages that recently happened in the northeast, which saw residents without power for weeks. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

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The Ray Charles statue at Riverfront Park in Albany is frozen Jan. 10, 2011. Freezing rain and ice are expected Wednesday morning in Albany. (File photo)

ALBANY — Albany and Southwest Georgia are bracing for a winter storm as the National Weather Service predicts freezing rain, sleet and ice to arrive late tonight and last throughout Wednesday morning.

According to the National Weather Service office in Tallahassee, Fla., the Southwest Georgia region will be hit by a winter storm late tonight that will bring with it heavy precipitation and freezing temperatures, making travel in the area on Wednesday morning difficult.

“It’s really starting to look like a freezing event,” said forecaster Jeanie McDermott. “At this point we’re not expecting that much snow. Freezing rain is, in a way, much worse.”

McDermott said the forecast had originally called for temperatures to drop low enough for the precipitation to turn into snow, but indications Monday were that likely won’t happen, leading to the prospects of sleet and ice.

“It’s going to be really a little warmer (in the Albany area), so we’re looking at more of an ice threat,” said McDermott. “People need to be careful Wednesday morning. The roads may not look icy, but they could be.”

The area is expected to cool down rapidly throughout the day today and reach a predicted low of 29 degrees around 4 a.m. Wednesday. The temperatures are expected rise throughout the day Wednesday, getting above freezing by 10 a.m. before reaching a predicted high of 36 degrees.

“I think the icing threat is going to end around 9 or 10 a.m.,” McDermott said. “By 10, it should be above freezing. By noon (Albany area) should be in the clear.”

Even with the icy conditions expected to not last beyond lunchtime Wednesday, cold weather is expected to last through the overnight with a low of 19 degrees. By Thursday, McDermott predicted, it should begin to warm up, reaching an expected high that day of 51 degrees.

In addition to icy conditions on the roads, area officials also are urging residents to be prepared for the inclement weather. Jim Vaught, the deputy director of the Dougherty County Emergency Management Agency, said he is hoping the weather will be more of an inconvenience than a danger. City and county officials still want residents to be prepared for the worst, he said.

“We’re not anticipating big problems, but we want people to be proactive,” said Vaught. “If you don’t need to be out in it, don’t be out in it.”

Vaught said residents should be sure to have warm blankets and bottled water handy in case of any issues with power. The extra weight of ice, particularly from freezing rain, on power lines or on trees with limbs above power lines can create power outages by damaging the lines.

“We have some beautiful old trees in Albany, but, unfortunately, when the limbs get covered in ice, they can break and hit power lines,” Vaught said. “Hopefully, that won’t happen, but we always have to be prepared.”

Lorie Farkas, assistant general manager of customer relations for Albany’s Water, Gas and Light Commission, echoed Vaught’s statements, saying that WG&L crews were prepared to handle anything that might occur if power should go out.

“We’re ready 24/7,” said Farkas. “If a large part of the city goes out, we’ll be systematic in getting it taken care of.”

Farkas said that if power should go out, residents need to be prepared and also to be patient, as it does take time to get to every location if there is widespread outages.

A few ways residents can be prepared, Farkas said, was to stay indoors if possible and be sure to wear extra layers of clothing, as any loss of power would affect heat inside homes. She was particularly concerned about elderly residents who are more susceptible to issues stemming from cold weather. She urged anyone who had elderly neighbors to check on them should a weather event occur.

Farkas also urged residents to show extreme caution and stay away from any downed power lines they come across.

“Do not go near downed power lines, even if they appear to not be live,” said Farkas. “If you see a downed line or smell gas, please call us right away.”

In addition to the city and county governments, many area school systems are also patiently watching the weather patterns for the next few days to determine if any cancellation of classes is necessary.

With the bulk of the bad weather predicted to come in the early morning hours Wednesday, getting students and teachers to and from school is a major concern.

“We’re going to continually monitor the situation,” said Dougherty County Schools Interim Superintendent David Mosely. “We’ll stay in contact with the weather service and hopefully make a determination by 5 p.m. (today).”

In addition to those in Dougherty, schools in Lee, Mitchell and Terell counties will also continue to monitor the weather throughout the day today and make a determination about Wednesday before the end of the day.

In Worth County, school officials have already decided to close schools on Wednesday and Thursday in an effort to maintain safety. With so many of the county’s roads being dirt, officials didn’t want to take any chances.

“In our commitment to safety and due to expected icy road conditions, Worth County schools will be closed for students, faculty and staff on Wednesday … and Thursday …,” a statement released by the school system late Monday afternoon said.

According to its website, Sumter County School System officials have decided to close the Americus schools today and Wednesday because of the weather.

While a decision was still pending concerning Lee County school closures, the Lee County Chamber of Commerce noted on its Facebook page that countywide garbage pickup will not take place Wednesday and pickup will be a day late.