A cold snap expected to descend on the region tonight will usher in freezing daytime temperatures, high winds and overnight lows in the 20s, meaning area residents should protect household pets and pipes.
Peter Mohlin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston, said unseasonably cold temperatures moving in this weekend will cause wind chills to drop into the teens Saturday and Sunday.
"This is definitely below normal," said Mohlin. Average temperatures for the region usually fall to around 38 degrees.
Temperatures are expected to drop into the 20s beginning Saturday night. Lows for Bluffton, Hilton Head Island and Beaufort should be between 25 and 30 degrees. Farther inland, temperatures will fall into the low 20s. After a chance of rain today, skies will clear, allowing the cold to move in and stay put through Tuesday night.
"We're lucky those days if we even get out of the 40s during the day," Mohlin said. "It certainly looks like it could get pretty bad."
The next significant chance for rain will come Tuesday and Wednesday. The chance for a freak snowfall is slim to none, Mohlin said.
The cold air and freezing temperatures are a threat to pets that are usually kept outdoors, said Franny Gerthoffer, executive director of the Hilton Head Humane Association.
"Hands down, people have to try and bring their pets in," said Gerthoffer, adding that pet owners who need a crate or cage to house their dogs during the cold snap can pick up a free one from the association.
If pet owners are unable to bring their dogs inside, Gerthoffer recommends housing them in a shelter with a floor that is raised off the ground, is insulated and has blankets and breathable door flaps.
Household pipes are also a concern.
Wind speeds are expected to exceed 20 mph along the coast and up to 10 mph inland, Mohlin said.
"You have to start worrying about your pipes to prevent them from freezing when it gets this cold," Mohlin said. "Areas farther inland like Ridgeland will see temperatures Sunday and Monday night in the low 20s."
Lou Brown, a representative from the Beaufort Jasper Water & Sewer Authority, said the utility company is inundated with calls from customers after the first major freeze of the season.
If residents wake up with no water, she said there might be a frozen pipe or frozen meter.
"When we do have frozen pipes in the area, the calls that come in from customers who think we turned off their water are quite common," Brown said."We make sure that all their faucets aren't working -- it could just be a lateral line that's broken instead of frozen pipes."
The company advises customers to be careful because the pipe might be cracked or broken, but not leaking if it is frozen solid. Customers also might want to consult a plumber.
If a frozen pipe can't be located, residents should check the main water pipe coming into the home at the point it comes out of the ground. If the main water pipe is not frozen, the water meter might be frozen. BJWSA officials ask that customers not attempt to thaw the meter, but call the company for assistance at 843-987-9292.
FREEZE PRECAUTIONS AND SAFETY TIPS
• To prevent pipes from freezing, wrap all exposed pipes located outside or in unheated areas of your home --attics, basements, crawl spaces and carports -- with Styrofoam, fiberglass or other insulating material. Drip outside and inside faucets overnight when temperatures are expected to fall below freezing and open cabinet doors underneath sinks against outside walls to allow warm air to flow.
• Disconnect water hoses from outside faucets and make sure faucet handles are closed tightly. Insulate outside faucets with Styrofoam or other materials.
• In unheated garages, shut water off to washing machines. Water softeners should be drained and protected from freezing temperatures. Take extra precautions to protect pipes that have frozen in the past and place a lamp near vulnerable pipes.
• Bring outdoor pets inside. If they must stay outside, be sure they have plenty of water and food to keep body temperatures up. Also make sure animals are kept in a sheltered area where they're not exposed to the wind.
• Take extra precautions when using space heaters, which can easily tip over. Don't leave heaters unattended or on overnight.
• To keep outdoor plants from freezing, cover them with a sheet and soak the roots in water, which will encase them with a sheet of protective ice. Don't use plastic to cover plants.
Source: The National Weather Service, the Beaufort Jasper Water & Sewer Authority and Greenery Inc. nursery