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Northwest Florida residents urged to exercise cold weather safety through holiday weekend

Image: Water is frozen on a tree in Fort Walton Beach in the 2014 winter storm.
Nick Tomecek/AP
/
Northwest Florida Daily News
Water is frozen on a tree in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., on Tuesday Jan. 2, 2018 after a resident left his sprinklers on. Temperatures are expected to stay below freezing at night for the Panhandle through Thursday morning. (Nick Tomecek/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)

With the National Weather Service advising extremely cold temperatures and windy conditions for Northwest Florida, local public safety officials are monitoring the situation and encouraging residents to exercise caution during this Christmas weekend.

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“(We) want to make sure that people are doing the right thing and taking this serious, and trying to find a warm place to hunker down for the next couple of days,” said Eric Gilmore, public safety director for Escambia County, noting the number one recommendation of the Five Ps of Cold Weather Safety — ensuring the safety of the people who live here.

“We’re going to see wind values tomorrow that’s going to bring the wind chill down to around the teens, so it’s going to be extremely cold.”

Gilmore advises residents to dress warmly over the next few days, including layering, hats and gloves. Make sure children are properly dressed for the weather and keep a check on the elderly.

“If you know somebody who’s elderly, who goes to your church or in your civic group and they have no family, check in on them,” he said. “See how they’re doing. See if they have their warming sources or a way to get warm and stay comfortable during this cold weather. So, just check on each other.”

Sticking with protection for people, plans are in place for the area’s unsheltered.

“Emergency Management has been talking with REAP (ReEntryAlliance of Pensacola) and Waterfront Rescue Mission and they’ve come up with a plan between the facilities to ensure we can get the people out of the cold weather, that they have a warm place to go.”

And, Gilmore points out that those organizations have suspended their normally strict rules about getting in and will have extended hours of operation by providing daytime warming centers.

Click here for more information on Escambia County’s cold weather information.

Elsewhere across the region, Santa Rosa County’s cold weather shelter, operated by Ferris Hill Baptist Church, will be opening at 4 p.m. today and will stay open 24 hours a day until Monday morning.

In Okaloosa County, the Crestview Homeless shelter and One Hopeful Place will be opening. Additionally, water will be shutoff at Okaloosa County Parks.

Next on the Five P’s list is pets.

“Make sure your pets are warm and sheltered from the wind,” Gilmore said. “Either bring them inside or make sure their outside kennels are prepared for insulating for the cold weather we’re going to have.”

Plnars also need special care during extreme cold.

“If you have any plants that are subjected to the cold weather, make sure you wrap those things up. If you have hanging plants, bring them inside and protect your plants.

During this extended period of below-freezing temperatures, it’s also important to ensure all outside pipes are well covered and insulated.

“If you have any sprinklers or anything with a pool that you need to keep circulating, either drip the outside faucets or insulate them and make sure they’re well insulated, because it’s not that we’re just going to freeze, it’s going to be a long freeze duration,” he warned, noting that starting Friday and continuing through Sunday, temperatures are expected to barely get above freezing. “So that long duration is what’s going to give us fits.”

During this time of year, Escambia County conducts its annual Keep the Wreath Green fire safety campaign. Just this week, Escambia County Fire Rescue added its 8th, 9th and 10th red bulbs representing one commercial structure fire and two residential fires.

That brings us to the final recommendation for cold weather safety for individuals trying to get warm during this holiday cold snap, which is to practice indoor fire safety.

“No stoves, don’t turn on the flames on the stove. We get worried about carbon monoxide build up,” Gilmore began. “And, if you’re going to plug an electric heater into something, plug it into the wall, and not an extension cord. You don’t want to overload that.”

It’s also important not to place heating sources, such as space heaters, at least three feet away from furniture or other combustible items.

When it comes to the impact of the freezing temperatures on roadways across the region, the Florida Department of Transportation is implementing its winter weather plan, including an assessment of its winter weather equipment such as bridge deck anti-icing sprayers.

Gilmore says Escambia County is concerned about road conditions with rapidly falling temperatures after some evening showers.

“I’ve talked to roads and bridges for Escambia County, so Jamie Higdon and that group out there are prepared to go out and put sand on the bridges this afternoon; just preventative measures,”he said, reiterating their plan to sand local bridges is a matter of being “safe rather than sorry.”

Finally, Gilmore says it’s important to remember that the extreme cold will be sticking around longer than usual for our area...at least through Christmas morning.

“That’s the dangerous part about this is it is a long duration,” he stated. “So, starting Friday and all the way through Sunday, we’ll barely get out of freezing temperatures. We’ll stay in the mid-low 30s throughout the day and then dropping into the teens at night.”

Additionally, he advised that a wind advisory on Friday, will make it feel even colder.

“So, if you’re out in it tomorrow, it’s going to be especially dangerous with the wind chill, and then we’re just dealing with the cold weather Saturday through Sunday.”

The Christmas Day forecast calls for early morning temperatures in the low-mid 20s...with a high around 43.

Find more weather information by linking to the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network at our website, wuwf.org.



Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.