By Greg Ritchie
HOUSTON COUNTY – The winter storm coming our way will begin Thursday afternoon and sit on the area until next week. It’s going to be so intense it even has a name: “Winter Storm Elliot.”
With lows Thursday and Friday in the teens – the windchill will be near or below zero. The temperature will go above freezing for a brief period Saturday and the back to the teens before we “warm up” Christmas Day into the mid-40’s.
The front will hit our area sometime Thursday afternoon into evening with Friday morning being cold well into Sunday afternoon.
Messenger contributor and online weather blogger Dan McElhany said the storm and high winds should be taken seriously.
“It’s a very strong Arctic front coming straight out of the north,” McElhany said. “There is some bitterly cold air behind it. I have seen wind chill projections between -5 and +5 on Friday. If you are out in this weather for very long it can cause problems.”
Exposure to these levels of wind chills can cause serious health risks. In only around 30 minutes, you could see the beginning signs of frostbite. Symptoms include redness or pain in the affected area, white or grayish-yellow skin, skin that feels abnormally firm or waxy, numbness, blisters or black skin in severe cases. This is no time to be brave – gloves, sweaters, many layers, scarves – this is their time to get some use.
“We should not stay out too long in these conditions if we can prevent it,” according to Houston County Office of Emergency Management and Fire Marshal Heath Murff. “You need to be able to get out of the wind and warm back up if you need to be out there for any period of time.’
Some areas of the country could face up to a foot and a half of snow before the end of Christmas Day.
Murff is updating information online to make sure people learn their “p’s.”
“People, pets, pipes, plants and plans,” Murff alliterated. “You need to have a plan to protect those things.”
The storm looks to be “dry” – without the initial precipitiation which usually proceeds such cold fronts. This could change – but should help the area avoid much of the ice on roadways and in trees.
“The most recent that I have looked at seems like there is not much of a rain chance at this point,” McElhany said. “But anytime you have this kind of a front with this type of air it’s not uncommon to see some snow flurries or even sleet pellets. Not enough to accumulate on the ground, though.”
Murff agreed, but said caution should be taken, nonetheless.
“I don’t think we will have enough precipitation on the ground to worry about,” Murff said. “But with the rain we have had, it is possible we could still have some moisture on the roadways and we should use caution on elevated roadways such as bridges or hills.”
Local plumber Reggie Gregory provided some tips for keeping those water pipes unfrozen in spite of the freezing temperatures.
“You need to let the water drip – both the hot and the cold – on opposite sides of the house in order to keep the water moving,” Gregory said. “If you have bathrooms or toilets outside, maybe in a workshop or in a barn, you need to put antifreeze in the tank and the bowl – anywhere traps would be exposed. Take all of your water hoses off the faucets.”
Gregory had some surprising insight into a common myth most homeowners believe.
“My 40-plus years of experience has taught me insulation on pipes provides little or no protection,” Gregory said. “It really does no good to put insulation on your pipes. I have seen bare pipes that never freeze. I saw one house with six inches of insulation but had 10 breaks. I don’t disagree with people who install insulation because it helps them sleep better!”
With the brutal cold and Christmas weekend, chestnuts roasting on an open fire sounds perfect. Murff warned too big a fire can be too big of a risk.
“Fire safety is key – we want to make sure we are not building too big a fire in our homes,” Murff cautioned. “We should be careful if we have not had our chimneys checked, cleaned or inspected. We have had several preventable house fires just because people were building their fires too big.”
“Hopefully by next Wednesday we are looking at temperatures back in the mid ’60’s. In the meantime, though, if you don’t have to get out in it – the best advice is to stay home and warm by the fireplace,” McElhany advised.
Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]