Becky Meyer could hardly believe her eyes this week when she saw an icy film over a large portion of Lake Tobesofkee.
With her remote thermometer reading 16 degrees at her waterfront home Tuesday morning, she quickly phoned her husband, who was out of town.
“Honey, you’re not going to believe this,” Meyer recalled saying.
She was looking at seagulls standing on patches of ice on the water.
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“It was not like a solid sheet, just like a thin piece of cracked glass,” she said.
Since Jan. 2, Macon has seen below-freezing temperatures each morning.
Meteorologist Shirley Lamback of the National Weather Service in Peachtree City said the current weather pattern has been allowing arctic air into the deep South.
“We’ve gotten a lot of snow up north, and we’re actually getting the flow off the snowpack and that’s why we’re getting this long pattern of cold weather,” Lamback said.
The days of freezing conditions have plumbers working overtime repairing burst pipes.
Macon Water Authority crews worked until almost midnight Friday and Saturday and were on the clock until about 8 p.m. Sunday repairing about a half-dozen broken water mains, said Darryl Macy, sewer conveyance and water distribution manager. About as many lines have broken this week, he said.
But not just water lines are breaking.
State climatologist David Stooksbury reports Macon has broken the record for the number of days below 25 degrees — nine days stretching from Jan. 3 to Jan. 11.
“What sets this off is not how extremely cold it has been but how long it has been cold,” Stooksbury said.
If the forecast holds true and the mercury bottoms out at 18 today, 21 Thursday and 31 Friday, Saturday will be the first day Macon will be above 32 degrees for the morning low since New Year’s Day. The 14-day streak of below 32 degrees would be the second-longest stretch in Macon’s history since records were first kept at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport in 1948. The longest period was 23 days of sub-freezing temperatures from Feb. 3 until Feb. 25 in 1968.
“The main thing this cold spell is going to have a major impact on is heating bills,” Stooksbury said.
Climate data shows heating demand in Macon for January is 69 percent above normal and 322 percent above last year.
Since Dec. 1 when the climatological winter began, heating demand is 28 percent above normal and 193 percent over last season to date.
But not all of the effects of the cold are unpleasant.
Mercer University associate professor of biology Al Smith said the freeze could drastically reduce some insect populations. Especially vulnerable are tropical or semi-tropical species such as whiteflies that have been hard to control in some gardens.
“Something like fire ants, it probably won’t affect them unless someone kicks over the mound,” Smith said.
Mosquitoes may be diminished somewhat because it will take longer for the population to increase to problem levels, he said. But if we see a warm spring with plenty of moisture, the winged pests can make up for lost time.
“Native species usually have some means of survival, or they wouldn’t be here,” Smith said.
Some insects reduce their water content in winter, which gives them a higher concentration of salt and makes them less susceptible to freezing. Other species produce their own antifreeze-type substances.
Insects can burrow into warm hiding places on the southern side of houses or trees, he said.
Generally, smaller bugs have a greater survival rate. Species such as large grasshoppers go through winter in both egg and adult stages.
“Large grasshoppers tend to get wiped out in long periods of cold,” Smith said.
When the Meyers moved from Florida to the lake more than seven years ago, they didn’t even own coats. But when mild winters gave way to bursts of cold, they upgraded their outdoor apparel.
Still, this month has been an oddity. The same morning Becky Meyer awoke to a semi-frozen lake, her husband was shivering through 15 degrees in Lake City, Fla. Citrus growers are still assessing damage to the crop.
“Rarely do we even see icy puddles,” Meyer said. “I’m sure it’s going to have lots of impacts on us we haven’t even thought of yet, like the produce.”
Afternoon temperatures are set to begin moderating into the 50s today and could top 60 degrees Friday.
But that could mean even more trouble for the Macon Water Authority.
Just as pipes break as the ground contracts in the cold, they can rupture when the ground expands in the warmth.
Macy expects this weekend to be even busier for burst water mains.
“The cast iron pipes just don’t care for that movement,” he said.
To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.