Last updated: January 06. 2014 1:51PM - 1549 Views
By - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

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Looking on the bright side, it’s been colder in Mount Airy before — 10 degrees below zero to be exact — but the life-threatening 4-degree low reading expected Tuesday is prompting numerous warnings from a local public safety official.

“It’s going to be the coldest it has been in many, many years,” Surry County Emergency Services Director John Shelton said around noon today, with the local record standing at minus-10 on Jan. 21, 1985. The expected overnight low of 4 degrees above zero will be intensified by wind-chill readings as low as 12 below zero, which will persist throughout the day Tuesday.

Tuesday’s high is forecast to be only 18 degrees by the National Weather Service.

Those conditions are generating a laundry list of concerns among Surry County’s public service agencies involving fire safety, exposure to the cold and the welfare of pets and other domestic animals.

Shelton said the various agencies are beefing up resources and mobilizing. Procedures are in place by the EMS, social services, the Red Cross, churches and others to address any extreme weather-related issues that arise among residents.

Anyone knowing of such a need can call the county communications headquarters at 374-3000, Shelton said.

“We’re trying to look at everything we can out there,” the emergency services said of the areas for potential problems. “We’re concerned about those out there who don’t have heat.”

Fire Hazards Heat Up

Coping with extreme cold can present risks, Shelton said, especially when homeowners are relying on “auxiliary” methods to stay warm, such as kerosene heaters.

“And a lot of these fires are caused by auxiliary sources that they put next to something and catches it on fire,” he said of incidents that have occurred locally.

Use of heaters without ventilation additionally can present problems with carbon monoxide poisoning, added Shelton, who recommends having working smoke and other detectors.

For those wanting to use fireplaces that haven’t been operated in a while, there are dangers from dirty chimneys — especially during high winds. The wind can cause a “reverse” effect by going down the chimney and scattering hot ashes onto carpeting, furniture and flooring, with Shelton saying that coverings for fireplaces also are a good idea.

Having to battle a blaze under frigid temperatures and high winds can be a risk for firefighters, Shelton said, with prevention the key. “For the fire departments themselves, it’s a disaster.”

Dressing Properly

Local residents are further urged to limit their exposure to the cold, and dress appropriately.

“If you’re going to be outside, it needs to be a short time frame,” the emergency services director advised.

The greatest loss of heat comes from one’s hands, head, neck and feet, Shelton said. “One of the most-neglected areas is their necks,” he said, which can result in major problems.

Pets such as dogs and cats also need to be protected, possibly outfitted with the small jackets designed for them, and those accustomed to being outside brought inside for temporary winter quartering.

“We’re even concerned with farm animals tonight,” Shelton said Monday of livestock such as cows and horses not accustomed to such cold. Animal owners were being encouraged to put them in barns.

Shelton said law enforcement officers will be patrolling locations known to be occupied by homeless persons to make sure they aren’t out in the cold.

Generators at strategic public locations also are being checked in case of power loss

Travel Tips

Anyone planning to be on the roadways should exercise caution as well.

“If you’re going to travel, make sure you have some sort of communication (device) out in your vehicle, you have articles to keep you warm — especially some light to be able to let people known that you’re off the roadway if you lose control of the vehicle and can’t get out,” Shelton said.

“And keep sources of heat on hand in the vehicle,” he said. “Make sure to let someone know when you’re leaving and when you expect to be at your location so you’re not out there and someone is wondering where you are.”

Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or tjoyce@civitasmedia.com.

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