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Turn on the heat; frigid temperatures expected tonight
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On Wednesday, you won’t need to look at a calendar to know that January has arrived. All you’ll have to do is step outside.

A monstrous cold front will move through the region today, bringing the most frigid temperatures Georgia has seen since last January. Nighttime lows will drop to 20 degrees or lower tonight and Wednesday night in Gainesville, while the mountain counties could see temperatures as low as 15.

"It’s well below normal, but it won’t be near record lows," said Stephen Konarik, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Peachtree City. "To break a record, we would have to get down into the single digits."

Konarik said though it’s expected to be sunny this morning, cloud cover will increase by afternoon.

"Winds will be picking up throughout the day, and temperatures will start dropping rapidly as soon as night falls," he said.

There’s about a 20 percent chance that Georgia’s northernmost counties could see snow flurries tonight, though no accumulation is expected.

Sunshine is predicted on Wednesday, but don’t be fooled: When you go outdoors, you’ll think you’ve walked into a deep freeze.

Despite the sun, the high temperature in Gainesville may not climb above 33 degrees, and the wind may gust up to 30 mph.

Thursday should be slightly warmer, with highs of about 40. But clear skies will bring another 20-degree night. Only on Friday will temperatures return to the seasonal norm, with daytime highs of about 50.

Konarik said people should bundle up if they have to be outside Wednesday. "Check on your elderly neighbors to make sure they have heat," he said. "And bring pets inside, or make sure they have warm shelter."

Susan Rodgers, a veterinary technician with Animal Medical Care in Gainesville, said nearly all dogs should be brought indoors when temperatures are below freezing.

"The only exception is your Northern breeds like malamutes and huskies," she said. "They have several layers of coat, and they’ll usually do fine."

Rodgers said cats and small dogs, even if they have a lot of hair, should be kept inside, because their size makes them vulnerable to freezing.

"Their relatively small amount of surface area makes them lose heat quickly," she said.

Rodgers said each winter her clinic treats pets suffering from hypothermia or frostbite. If there is absolutely no way to bring an animal indoors, she said the owner must provide a snug shelter.

"That means a doghouse filled with hay or straw, and it should have a door that can be closed, as well as a cover overhead (to keep out wind and rain)."

Dogs kept outside will need extra food in the winter, Rodgers said, because they burn more calories trying to stay warm. But thirst is also an issue, because it’s difficult to keep the dog’s water supply from turning to ice.

"Either you’ll need a heated bowl, or you’re going to have to go outside frequently to change the water," she said.

Regional events