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Bundle up: Polar air is back through end of week
Temperatures not as frigid as in early January

Winter weather driving tips

• Check weather conditions before driving and stay off the roads unless it is an emergency if conditions warrant. Choose caution and stay where you are instead of driving in hazardous winter weather conditions.

• Slow down and stay behind the snowplows. The road behind the plow will be the safest place to drive. Allow at least 10 car lengths between your vehicle and snowplows or hopper spreaders.

• Do not pass. The plows are wide, and sometimes a group of trucks will work in tandem to clear snow quickly, especially on major highways.

• Be particularly aware of black ice conditions on surfaces such as bridge decks and entrance and exit ramps late tomorrow night and the early hours of Friday morning.

• Technology helps, but only to a point. Four-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes and traction control are beneficial advancements in today's cars, trucks and SUVs, but they can't take the place of good driving habits and the need to reduce speed on snowy or icy roads.

More info: Georgia DOT hotline, dial 511; website; Facebook, Twitter

Source: Georgia Department of Transporation

If you think it’s cold now, you must not remember the winter of 1985.

That’s when the lowest recorded temperature was minus-8, according to data from the office of the state climatologist.

Compared to that, this morning’s expected low of 16 could possibly be considered a heat wave, even with a wind chill of around 5 or 6 degrees.

Or maybe not.

“This is kind of a weakening of the circumpolar vortex,” State Climatologist Bill Murphey said. “A polar low has branched off of it, and that’s kind of what we’ve been having.”

The branched-off polar low, combined with a Canadian high pressure system that Murphey calls an “arctic high,” is responsible for the cold temperatures and windy conditions in our area, he said.

Overnight temperatures in Gainesville aren’t expected to be above 30 in the foreseeable forecast, and the highs during the day are only expected to top out in the 30s through the end of the week.

“Even on Friday, it looks like you’ll struggle to get above freezing,” National Weather Service forecaster Ryan Willis said. “Right now we’re forecasting a high Friday of right around 33 or so.”

After today’s morning wind chill in the single digits, the temperature should rebound to a high of 34 this afternoon, high enough to melt the snow that fell in White and Union counties Tuesday. In fact, most of North Georgia, including parts of Hall County, at least saw flurries Tuesday afternoon.

The Georgia Department of Transportation said hazardous conditions could develop quickly in the higher elevations and on elevated structures in Habersham, Lumpkin, Rabun, Towns, Union and White counties.

“Please use extra caution,” in the mountain counties, said DOT District Engineer Bayne Smith. “Black ice is possible throughout the region.”

Ga. 180 spur in Union County is closed and will not reopen until temperatures reach above freezing at Brasstown Bald. The route has a gate and a lock on it, preventing motorists from getting stuck at its higher elevations.

The white stuff isn’t expected to make another appearance this week, but school leaders are still keeping an eye on the thermometer, thinking of the little ones waiting at the bus stop in the mornings.

“Parents want to make sure their children are layered with heavy sweaters, undershirts, those kinds of things,” Gainesville’s Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources and Operations Elfreda Lakey said. “Also, they need to have a hat. Make sure their ears are covered, along with gloves and a coat that’s very heavy.”

The four-legged family members need extra attention during this extreme weather, as well.

When it is below freezing, pets should be brought inside. If that’s not a possibility, there are precautions owners can take.

“At least provide some padding and some old towels on the ground or on the carport so they’re insulated off that cold concrete,” said Michael Wheeler, county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. “If (you) have a garage, keep it shut at night, especially if (it has) an insulated door.”

Wheeler also said to put fresh water and extra food down every day.

“We all need more calories in this cold weather,” he said. “They’re going to burn (calories) up just to maintain a body temperature, so keep (pets) well-fed.”

In that case, it may be time to stock up on groceries — both Murphey and Willis said this cold weather pattern is expected to continue at least through the end of January.

“This pattern looks like it’s going to stay progressive in the short range, midrange and even possibly the longer range of eight to 10 days out,” Murphey said. “Meaning, we could still get a few more of these cold outbreaks (but not) as frigid and cold and severe as the last one we had.”

The United States is in a neutral weather pattern, meaning there is no El Nino and La Nina.

“Typically in a neutral pattern, you can get big swings in temperature during the wintertime and the spring as well,” Murphey said.

So even with high temperatures in the 40s expected over the weekend, don’t get too comfortable.

“It does look like, perhaps, headed into (Jan. 28) we could get another little dip of cold air with highs in the 30s again,” Willis said. “It is winter, but it looks like the end of this month going into February will be below average.

“We’ll finish up January on a cold note.”