Amid cries of “Happy New Year” are those of “bundle up.” Old Man Winter is making his appearance felt along the Florida Panhandle this week.
A hard freeze warning and wind chill advisory are in effect for Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties until 8:00 a.m. Thursday. Nighttime lows will drop to around 20 degrees throughout the week. But this time around, it’s not so much the lower readings, as it is their duration.
“It started Monday morning, [when] we had a hard freeze,” said Meteorologist Jeff Huffman with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network. “And then all the way into Thursday night and into Friday night a hard freeze is possible.” I think temperatures will finally climb above the freezing mark at night by Saturday night.”
Huffman adds that it’s the wind chill that people have to be aware of when going out. Readings Tuesday morning were around ten degrees.
“We’re going to see that again Wednesday night behind the next front,” said Huffman. “And wind chills could be ten to fifteen[degrees] in the morning hours Thursday. That is cold enough to cause frostbite if you’re not prepared for it and covered up, especially if you’re going to spend an excessive time outdoors.”
When cold weather moves into an area, it brings along its own hazards. Escambia County Public Safety Director Mike Weaver says everyone should practice the “Five P’s,” beginning with Protecting People.
“Obviously in Florida we don’t do cold weather, but really the body is not made for it,” Weaver said. “Stay indoors as much as possible and just keep your body covered and don’t let those elements get to you.”
Also remember to check on young children and older family and neighbors who are the most sensitive to cold weather.
The other “P’s” on the list are protecting pets, plants, pipes, and protecting fire safety. When it comes to heating a home, caution should be at the top of the agenda, especially with space heaters.
“Just remember the word ‘space;’ the heater needs space,” said Weaver. Make sure it’s not touching anything. Draperies and bed linens are usually the biggest cause; and once that fire starts it becomes overwhelming very quickly.”
A good rule of thumb is keeping combustibles at least three feet from space heaters. Fireplaces are another heating source that should be handled carefully, beginning with maintenance.
“Even the natural gas fireplaces do require cleaning to make sure that carbon is cleaned out,” said Weaver. “Carbon up in your chimney can ignite.”
Also make sure all heaters are properly ventilated and do not use a heat source such as a barbeque grill to heat indoors.
“Those things that are used outdoors do not vent well and they emit a lot of carbon monoxide,” said Weaver. “You won’t notice you’re being exposed to those gases until it’s too late.”
If warmth cannot be maintained at home, make arrangements to stay elsewhere, such as with friends and family. A cold weather shelter will be open each night through Thursday at Ferris Hill Baptist Church, on Chaffin St. in Milton.
The good news is that our cold weather will remain dry. Another shot of cold air moves in next week, but Huffman says it will be brief. As far as a warmup, he says the second half of January will really be warm in Florida, thanks to La Nina in the Pacific Ocean.
“Even during a warmer-than-normal winter overall for the three-month counting period, you can have some extreme events, like what we’re experiencing now,” said Huffman. “This will certainly put a dent in the average temperature this winter, but I still believe when we tally it up at the end of February, it will be a warmer-than-normal winter here in Florida.”