Leader Blues

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

TOP STORY >> Old man winter strikes frigid blow

By NANCY DOCKTER
Leader staff writer

A series of arctic fronts moving across the state at a slow pace may drive low temperatures in central Arkansas into the single digits by the end of the week. This is the time to bring in the pets, keep the faucets dripping and think of your neighbors. And watch for those icy patches on roadways and driveways.

January is typically the coldest month of the year, with 49 degrees Fahrenheit the average high, and 27 the average low. This week, daytime highs are feeling more like the normal lows and there is little chance that temperatures will get above 40 degrees until Monday.

On Tuesday, the temperature dipped to 12 degrees at the National Weather Service in North Little Rock and 14 degrees at Little Rock Air Force Base. Predicted lows for the area this week are 2 degrees on Thursday and 8 degrees Friday.

The good news is that after another bout of wintry precipitation moves out of the way Thursday morning, sunshine will prevail through the weekend.

An upper air pattern is being blamed for the plunge in temperatures that is affecting most of the country east of the Rockies.

“This low-pressure trough, not unusual for the winter, is conducive to letting these fronts come down, become stagnant and not allow the arctic air to move off in a different direction,” said Chris Bunanno, science and weather operations officer for the National Weather Service in Little Rock. “A good chunk of the nation is experiencing well below normal temperatures as several arctic air masses have moved all the way to the Gulf Coast.”

The lowest low on record for the area is -7 degrees which occurred twice in 1989, on Dec. 1 and Dec. 23.

PETS AND THE COLD

Pet owners are advised to bring their animals inside, or at least provide added insulation to dog houses or keep them in an outbuilding.

“Nobody wants to stay outside in this weather,” said Hedy Limke, director of animal services for Jacksonville.

And horses, though much more able to withstand extreme cold than dogs and cats, will be helped with some grain to “keep their body weight up” during the winter, said Cheryl Wood, animal control officer for Jacksonville.

PROTECTING THE PLUMBING

Local plumbing companies are already getting calls from homeowners with frozen and burst water lines. With little relief from freezing temperatures this week, extra precautions are in order to prevent a plumbing catastrophe.

“Keeping the water moving will help, but is no sure fix for the problem,” said Woody Arrowwood, district manager of Arrow Plumbing. “Typically, when you’re talking about temperatures going into the teens, you could have some problems, though a big thing is how a house is constructed and how well it is insulated.”

Arrowwood recommends insulating all pipes under a house or in unheated areas such as a utility room. And don’t forget about outdoor faucets. “They need what you need when you are outside on a cold day – bundle up and keep them warm.”

Inexpensive, strap-on hose bib covers that can be purchased at any building-supply store will protect against cold and wind that can drive water up into the pipe and cause it to burst. Plumbers can install frost-proof hoses that shuts the water off behind the exterior wall.

If you are away from home during the winter months, “even for a couple of days,” or own a building that is not occupied, keeping the heat on to protect the plumbing is essential, Arrowwood said.

LOOKING OUT FOR OTHERS

Winter weather can keep folks at home and unable to get out, so it is a time to think of those who might need assistance.

Although no ice or power outages are expected this week in central Arkansas, a cold spell is a good time to take stock, says American Red Cross spokeswoman Brigette Williams.

“Winter storms can knock down power lines, make travel difficult because of icy road conditions, and keep people isolated in their homes for several days as did last January’s ice storm,” Williams said. “That’s why now is the perfect time to get ready before more winter weather hits our area. Make sure you have the food and supplies on hand that you may need if it’s not safe to travel or if the power goes out.”

The Red Cross recommends stocking up on easy-to-prepare foods, medications, diapers, baby formula, pet food, spare flashlight batteries and hygiene items like toilet paper and tissue, as well as fuel for a fireplace or heater.

For anyone needing a place to get out of the cold, Jacksonville Senior Center’s doors are open until 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 1 p.m. on Friday. The center is closed due to weather whenever Pulaski County Special School District is closed.

Don Hindman, director of the Jack Evans Senior Center in Sherwood, said that the center, which is the city’s gathering point for emergency services, is equipped with “pillows, cots, plenty of blankets and food” for emergencies.

“If people are out of heat and have no place to go, we will try to take care of them,” Hindman said.