Round two of frigid weather in the Florida Panhandle closely resembles that from a couple of weeks ago. But there is some light, and warmth, at the end of the tunnel.
Precipitation from the southernmost reaches of Winter Storm Inga led to a number of closings in northwest Florida the past couple of days: schools, roads, bridges and overpasses. Meteorologist Jeff Huffman at the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network says the silver lining is that the rest of the winter mix is tracking to the north and east.
“The cold, though will not miss us,” said Huffman. “The next two days we’ll struggle to hit 50. I think wind chills by Thursday morning will be in the teens.”
Additional Florida Highway Patrol personnel have been on the roads since Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, when the road hazards began to develop. Lt. Eddie Elmore at FHP says they kept a check on bridges and overpasses, along with the area’s major highways. And in doing so, FHP was joined by the Florida Department of Transportation.
“In preparation for that, [the Florida Department of Transportation] had started prepping the bridges with de-icing chemicals,” said Elmore. “Which is a lesson we learned back in 2014 from one of the first ice storms we’ve seen in [a] very long time.”
All major bridges and highways were re-opened on Wednesday, and Elmore says the plan is for FHP and the Department of Transportation to continue monitoring them for any changes until at least midnight tonight. Elmore also advises that if you don’t have to venture out, stay home.
And while you’re at home, it’s a good idea to check and protect those water pipes. Nathalie Bowers at Emerald Coast Utilities Authority says focus on pipes and faucets in unheated areas.
“A garage, a crawlspace under the house or in the attic,” Bowers said. “Wrap these pipes with insulation materials that are made specifically for this purpose.”
The winter weather is also leading to some changes this week in sanitation services, after scheduled pickups were suspended for Wednesday because of driving conditions, and the closure of the Perdido Landfill.
“In Escambia County, Wednesday’s collections will be conducted on Thursday,” said Bowers. Thursday’s collections will be Friday, and Friday’s will be on Saturday. In Santa Rosa County as of now, we have no changes; we do not have any collections of Wednesdays.”
Many Gulf Power customers likely will see the impact of the cold weather in their upcoming electric bills. Jeff Rogers at the utility says a little planning can go a long way towards softening the blow.
“We recommend in the winter you keep your thermostat set at 68 degrees, or if you can set it lower,” Rogers said. “For every degree lower than 68 you can save 10 percent on the heating portion of your bill.”
Also, put on an extra sweater and throw an extra blanket on the bed, to keep away the temptation of adjusting the thermostat. There are a number of programs to help with paying a larger bill listed at www.gulfpower.com. There are also a number of programs to help with paying a larger bill listed at the website.
Several churches and organizations are offering shelter from the cold the next couple of nights, including Waterfront Rescue Mission, Ferris Hill Baptist Church, Ensley First Baptist, and the American Red Cross.
And, according to the National Weather Service, daytime highs in the Panhandle are expected to be back in the 60s by the weekend, and near 70 the first of next week.