Middle Georgians soldier on despite cold

pramati@macon.comJanuary 7, 2014 

Just because Tuesday’s temperature fell to a record 11 degrees didn’t mean people who normally work outdoors got the day off.

But companies with workers whose jobs keep them outside tried to be cognizant of the bitter cold. Tuesday was the coldest Jan. 7 in Macon, breaking the previous record of 14 degrees set on the date in 1924.

It wasn’t the lowest the mercury has ever dropped in Macon. The all-time low for the city came on Jan. 21, 1985, when the temperature fell to minus 6 degrees.

But even though Tuesday’s low was 17 degrees above the all-time record, it was still bone-chilling.

For the Piedmont Construction Group, which is building the latest phase of the Mercer Lofts across the street from Tattnall Square Park, that meant starting work later in the morning than usual.

“We delayed coming in this morning and not expose the workers” to the cold, foreman Sean Wright said Tuesday. “Safety is No. 1 with this company. ... If it gets to the teens, below 20 (degrees), we’ll have them stay home. (Monday) was hard work. The wind was brutal.”

Warren Associates construction workers were a bit luckier: All their work Tuesday at the Thomas Jackson Juvenile Justice Center in downtown Macon was inside.

Foreman Bill Newby said nothing could be done on the roof because of the weather, and the ground was too frozen for grading.

“When you don’t have to subject your people to the cold, you don’t do it,” he said.

Still, some workers had no choice but to be in the elements.

About 300 Georgia Power customers lost power in Macon and Milledgeville. Workers spent most of Tuesday making repairs, said spokeswoman Theresa Robinson.

Jason Stott, an engineer with the utility, said much of the repair work involved transformers.

“We’ve been working some long hours since early this morning trying to restore power due to the extreme cold weather and system overloading we’ve been dealing with,” he said.

Similarly, Cox Communications repair crews started early Tuesday to deal with service calls.

“I’ve been out since 2 a.m. with outages,” said Todd Longo, a maintenance technician. “It was awful. ... You work through it because that’s what the job calls for.”

While Longo said he’d much rather work outdoors during the summer, Terry Baker, who is with Simpson Lawn Care in Americus but was doing work Tuesday in Macon, prefers the cold. He said he and his colleagues still perform lawn maintenance in the winter.

“You can put on enough clothes (for the cold), but you can’t take off enough clothes” during the summer, he said.

Macon Water Authority workers were out in the single-digit wind chill early Tuesday repairing a water main break on Peake Road.

Most of them were wearing insulated overalls.

“Try to dress warm. That’s about the best thing to do,” said Donnie Mullis, who sported a hooded sweatshirt pulled over his baseball cap.

With gallons of water swirling around them, keeping boots dry can mean the difference between making do and misery.

“If your feet get wet, then it is all over,” one of the workers said.

Macon-Bibb County public works crews had to clear ice from the road at Third Street Park and Terminal Station because sprinklers had been left on. Public Works Director Richard Powell said his crews were on standby with rock salt in case of ice, but he said he wasn’t anticipating any more problems because there was no precipitation Tuesday.

The cold weather brought a lot of weather-related home-service calls.

Jim Howard, a part-owner of Pro-Tech Services of Byron, said his workers have been especially busy since his company handles plumbing and heating/air conditioning services.

“We’ve gotten 30 or 40 calls (Tuesday morning) and about that many (on Monday),” Howard said. “With the heating, we’re slammed today. It had been a relatively mild winter thus far. With older systems, with the first big cold spell, there are problems.”

Besides their homes, Middle Georgians also tried to ensure their vehicles were in good working order. Jarius Snell, an assistant manager with Firestone Auto Care on Eisenhower Parkway, said many people brought in their cars because the cold has caused their tire pressure sensors to go awry.

“The air pressure in the tire drops,” he said. “You’ve got to keep an eye on it.”

Customers also have had issues with their batteries and anti-freeze, he said.

With others depending on them, some people have no choice but to work despite the cold weather.

Jennifer Mastronardi cares for 16 horses at the Pleasant Oaks Equestrian Center in Byron. Because the pipes and water buckets froze solid, Mastronardi had to lug buckets of hot water about 500 yards from her house to the barn. The horses drink about every five hours, and each one consumes about 20 gallons of water a day.

“The ground is frozen, the pipes are frozen and the water is frozen,” she said. “I’ve had to break four inches of ice out of their water buckets for them to drink.”

In Fort Valley, the cold may have hurt some of the city’s signature camellias, but earlier wet weather positioned the flowers well.

William Khoury, horticultural specialist with Massee Lane Gardens and the American Camellia Society, said open blooms on the plants will be lost, but they represent a small fraction of the unopened buds.

“We think that the majority of the flower buds that are unopened are OK,” Khoury said. “It’s just a matter of letting them thaw. I think we got off pretty lucky this year, considering the situation.”

The time for peak camellia blooms is in February, said Lorie Huff, membership coordinator for the American Camellia Society. With warmer weather forecast in the coming days, Huff said the lost blooms will be soon replaced.

“I predict we’ll have as many if not more blooms,” she said.

While many school systems throughout Middle Georgia were closed Tuesday, Houston County schools were open. Tom Walmer, the system’s transportation director, said a few of the system’s 182 buses wouldn’t start and were replaced with backup buses. Four of the buses were about 30 minutes late.

After missing the previous two days, Bibb County schools will return to normal schedules Wednesday. Peach and Monroe county schools also reopen Wednesday, but Monroe schools will open an hour later.

Few cold-related injuries have been reported. Dr. Kalambur Panchapakesan, director of emergency medicine at The Medical Center of Central Georgia, said the emergency room didn’t have any weather-related emergencies. He said people who are outdoors during the cold weather should wear at least three layers of clothing and should watch for signs of frostbite.

“Early symptoms are pain and numbness,” he said. “If there’s discoloration on the skin and swelling, you should get medical attention.”

According to the National Weather Service website, Wednesday’s temperatures are expected to reach a high of 44 degrees before falling to 27 at night.

Staff writers Liz Fabian, Mike Stucka and Grant Blankenship contributed to this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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