Record lows expected to hit Lowcountry tonight

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 5, 2014 

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The Lowcountry will have its first freeze of 2014 Monday night and could face record-breaking low temperatures, according to the National Weather Service.

With an overnight freeze looming, homeowners will need to take special care to protect their pets and plants, ideally by bringing them inside before Monday night, local experts said.

In addition, the Palmetto Electric Cooperative and Beaufort County School District are keeping a close eye on the weather to prepare for any power outages or school cancellations.

Temperatures will begin to drop Monday morning when a cold front sweeps across the southeast, said Julie Packett, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Charleston.

The front will drag temperatures from the 50s Monday morning to below freezing overnight, with forecast lows in the teens and low 20s, she said.

"Along and behind the cold front (Monday ), we're going to see the winds increase as well," Packett said. "It's definitely going to be a blustery day."

The bitterest cold is expected Tuesday morning. Forecast lows near 19 degrees might break the previous Jan. 7 record low of 21 degrees, recorded at the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport in 1959, she said.

Meteorologists also predict the wind chill factor accompanying 20 to 25 mph winds -- with gusts up to 35 to 40 mph -- will make it feel even colder Tuesday morning, near the all-time low of 3 degrees, set in 1985, Packett said.

Temperatures will dip into the low 20s again Tuesday night but should continue to rise the rest of the week, she said. Forecast lows from Wednesday to Saturday nights rise well above freezing to the upper 40s and 50s, according to the weather service.

Be prepared

In the meantime, the imminent freeze means homeowners should protect their pets, plants and pipes -- all of which are susceptible to low temperatures.

Before temperatures drop below freezing Monday night, owners should bring pets inside, said Chris Conley, veterinarian and owner of the Bluffton Veterinary Hospital. The second-best option is to let animals into a garage or similar structure. At a bare minimum they should be in some kind of shelter, even if it's a shed or doghouse, he added.

No matter where the pets are, owners need to make sure the animals have access to water, which will freeze outdoors, Conley said.

Because the freezing temperatures aren't here to stay, pets will adapt well to the cold with just a little extra attention, he said.

"Anything that applies to a human applies to your pets, too, just with a little more wiggle room because they've got that coat of fur," Conley said.

Flowers, shrubs and trees certainly do not have that extra layer and will need to be moved inside or covered to survive the freeze, said Frank Sipala, owner of Sunshine Hardscape, Landscape & Nursery.

Any potted plants should be brought inside or at least put in a garage or shed, Sipala said. Any tropical or citrus plants and trees, along with any annuals and perennials, need to be covered using a frost blanket or bedsheets and quilts, he added.

"The regular annual baskets will not take the frost," nursery manager Bessie Stauffer said. "You've got two nights in a row (of frost); that's going to be hard."

If perennials are burned by the frost, Stauffer and Sipala recommend cutting them even with the ground so they will sprout up again during the spring.

The bitter temperatures can also freeze homes' water pipes, which can cause serious damage, said Keith Kelley, owner of Beaufort Plumbing on Lady's Island.

Kelley recommends leaving exterior faucets trickling overnight Monday to keep water moving in the pipes, helping to avoid a freeze and any damage. Pipes leading down to docks are especially at risk, so it's important to leave those trickling, too, he said.

"That's what I'll do at my house," Kelley said. "It's not bulletproof, but it'll certainly help."

Schools and power

The Beaufort County School District and Palmetto Electric Cooperative will both watch the weather closely Monday, but neither foresee the cold weather causing many problems.

The electric cooperative has the capacity to handle an increase in demand from homeowners cranking up the heat, said Jimmy Baker, Palmetto Electric's vice president of marketing and public relations.

If anything poses a threat for power outages it's forecast wind gusts, he said.

Last week strong winds similar to those forecast for Monday knocked out power to about 1,200 customers in Beaufort County.

The cooperative keeps crews on standby at all times and had power back on for those customers within a few hours, Baker said. If any outages occur during the cold, those crews will be ready to act, he added.

The school district will keep its normal schedules Monday and Tuesday, but principals and administrators will keep an eye on the weather, school district spokesman Jim Foster said.

"If there's a possibility we may have issues with ice on the roads, that's a call we'll have to make on Monday and we'll make it as soon as we can," Foster said.

For now, parents need to make sure children are bundled up under several layers, especially those waiting at bus stops on Tuesday morning, he said.

Parents should stay tuned to the district's website, www.beaufort.k12.sc.us, for updates throughout the day, Foster said. Any changes or cancellations will appear there and from the district's email and text notification system.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

Related content:

Historic freeze could break Midwest temp records, Jan. 4, 2014

Power outages affect Beaufort County, Jan. 3, 2014

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