Last week, Willard Moore had his faltering heating system replaced, and he knows the timing couldn’t have been better.
“I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never seen a stretch as cold as this,” he said.
Cold snaps like the one Middle Georgia is currently experiencing keep companies such as Wilson Bryant Air Conditioning busy. Vice president Chris Wilson said his workers are outside up to 14 hours a day during the coldest parts of winter. In these temperatures, workers’ hands go numb, and the small components of the heating units make gloves too impractical to use. It doesn’t take long for fatigue to set in.
Kevin Bryant, the youngest in this 50-year-old family business, said, “We just bundle up tight and drink as much coffee as possible.”
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Forecasters from the National Weather Service in Peachtree City are expecting the midstate to get hit by at least some harsh winter weather Thursday evening and possibly Friday morning.
Nate Mayes, a forecaster with the weather service, said there’s a 20 percent chance of rain Thursday morning. By Thursday afternoon, the chance of some kind of precipitation — rain, snow or sleet — will increase to 50 percent, he said, coupled with temperatures expected to drop into the low 20s.
Though the precipitation will be gone by the weekend, Mayes said temperatures are forecasted to dip to 19 degrees Saturday and 17 degrees Sunday.
Damon, who declined to give his last name, will suffer through this cold snap under a pile of donated blankets in a makeshift camp near the railroad tracks downtown.
“It gets so bad you think you’re freezing to death,” he said. He’s a Macon native who remembers life as a landscape architect with a degree from the University of Georgia. Damon said he became homeless last July in the heart of the country’s economic meltdown. He survives as a member of a loose but extended family that leans on each other.
“You have to depend on each other,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of people who have a heart for this.”
Tim, who likewise declined to give his last name, said coping with the cold is a better option than giving up and dying.
“You just have to do it,” he said, “Get up, move around and start a fire. If it gets real bad, we’ll throw the blankets on and huddle up together to stay warm.”
Homeless advocate Phillip Banze said most of the unsheltered homeless have no recourse but to stay outside. He said local shelters can only house about a third of the city’s homeless population.
Macon Rescue Mission Executive Director Jeff Nicklas said, “The homeless are survivors, but when it gets this cold outside, they can’t rely on their self-survival skills.”
The mission has expanded to accommodate an additional 15 people for a total of 55 spaces. Having filled seven extra beds before finishing the expansion, Nicklas expects to reach capacity quickly.
Emergency management directors across the state had a conference call with the weather service Tuesday afternoon to discuss various contingency plans. They were scheduled to have a second call this morning, since forecasters will have a better idea of conditions.
LaTravius Smith, interim director of the Macon-Bibb County Emergency Management Agency, said her most important task now is to educate the public to prepare for the cold snap but not to panic. She said information on what to do will air on Cox Cable Channel 14, a public access channel.
“We want to keep people calm,” she said. “We’ve been talking to public works, and they have sand trucks ready (in the event of ice or snow). We’ve been talking to the city and county and we’re watching the roads. The board of education is standing by. We expect to have a better idea (today). What is happening west of us will play a big role. ... We’re prepared to address it as it comes.”
Meanwhile, Bibb County school officials are monitoring severe weather threats through National Weather service briefings with the Macon-Bibb County Emergency Management Agency. As the system rolls into Macon, school officials will decide whether to cancel school, said David Gowan, director of risk management for the school system.
School officials also consider law enforcement’s advisement of hazardous roads, bridges and overpasses in making a decision.
Gowan himself also gets out to drive the roads before calling Superintendent Sharon Patterson, who makes the final decision.
“We try to wait as late as we can, but we also know we have to contact the parents,” he said.
If school is canceled later this week, the system will alert media outlets, post it on the system’s Web site, and parents will be notified through a new automated messaging system.
Mayes said the weather in the midstate was cold but hasn’t broken any records. Tuesday’s low reached 21 degrees, leaving intact the record of 16 degrees set in 1999. Tuesday’s high reached 40 degrees.
Last year, it reached a high of 72 degrees and a low of 51 on Jan. 5. The record high for the date is 81 degrees, set in 2004. Mayes attributed the colder temperatures to the El Niño weather system moving back into the Pacific Ocean, replacing La Niña, which brought about the warmer temperatures of the past few years.
“It’s amazing how warm water in the Pacific can change patterns across North America,” he said.
Staff writer Julie Hubbard contributed to this report.
To contact writer Chris Horne, call 744-4494. To contact Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.