Extreme cold means extra care for critters in the greater Chattanooga area

Extreme cold means extra care for critters in the greater Chattanooga area

January 5th, 2014 by Alex Harris in Local Regional News

Brayden, Rachel, and Steven Hueston, from left, walk their pinscher Bell and German shepherd Bear past the Hunter Museum of American Art in below-freezing temperatures Friday.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

Weekend forecast from WRCB-Channel 3:

• Sunday brings a light rain with highs in the upper 40s, and a change to snow by the evening with some sleet possible in the transition. Snowfall accumulation is estimated to be up to 0.5" in Chattanooga and 1" to 2" in the higher elevations to the north and east of the city; 1" to 2" on the Cumberland Plateau with pockets of 3"; 1" to 2" in northeast Alabama; and 1" to 3" across northern Georgia.

• Temperatures are expected to drop to single digits or teens in the mountains and valleys by Monday morning with the wind chill near and below zero, and the high is only expected to reach about 20 in the afternoon.

• Lows in the single digits above and below zero are expected Tuesday morning, with highs only reaching the 20s in the city, despite sunny skies.

• Chief Meteorologist Paul Barys also warns that the rapidly dropping temperatures, coupled with the rain and snow, could lead to black ice and "severe driving problems" Sunday night and Monday morning and day.

As the Scenic City braces for an onslaught of winter weather, Chattanooga area pet owners should keep their furry friends in mind while making preparations to combat the cold.

The approaching storm could bring the coldest temperatures to the area since 2003, and could set a record, Tony Reavley, chief of Hamilton County Emergency Services, said after a Saturday afternoon conference call with National Weather Service officials.

"It's going to be 60-plus hours below freezing," Reavley said. "That's going to create issues within itself."

Starting tonight, rain will be changing over to snow with a possible accumulation of 1 to 3 inches, according to NWS officials. Winds will be at 15 to 30 mph from the northwest as the front moves through, and the wind chill will be zero to 5 degrees in the valley and 5 to 15 below zero in the mountains by Monday morning. The low Monday night to Tuesday morning will be 5 degrees and the high Tuesday will be 23.

"It's going to be dangerously cold," said Amy Maxwell, spokeswoman for Hamilton County EMS. "We're talking exposure within a few minutes. If you're going to be outside in the next couple of days, frostbite and hypothermia can begin to develop in a few minutes."

And animals are just as vulnerable to the cold as people, Maxwell said.

Winter weather tips from Hamilton County Emergency Services:

• Check pipes and keep some water running.

• Before travel: check the vehicle's coolant, top off fuel, pack extra clothing and blankets, plan extra travel time and let someone know when you've arrived at your destination.

• Keep an eye on sick or elderly family and friends who might be more susceptible to issues in intense cold.

• Plan an alternative heat source in case of a power outage.

• Keep combustibles away from heat sources.

With severe weather coming in, the Chattanooga Zoo has been checking its back-up generators and propane heaters to make sure they're working properly in case the zoo loses power, Executive Director Dardenelle Long said.

"Some animals can be lost in a matter of hours," Long said.

Although some of the zoo's animals, such as the snow leopards, will be fine in the cold, some of the animals from "more tropical climates" will be locked inside to protect them, Long said. She said older animals are more susceptible to the cold and could become confused or disoriented and forget to seek shelter.

"Animals that are warm-weather animals, they either are kept inside or have access to inside quarters at certain temperatures," said Marissa Ogles, director of marketing and communications at the Chattanooga Zoo. "We also provide extra bedding and heaters and heat lamps, and so on and so forth to help keep them warm."

With the oncoming intense cold, Long suggested that pet owners make sure their animals have plenty of fresh, unfrozen water, plenty of food to provide more calories for animals working to stay warm and some form of shelter from wind and weather.

Winter weather suggestions for concerned pet parents are also available from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

In cold weather, the ASPCA suggests that owners make sure their pets have a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from drafts. Provide a coat or sweater for short-haired pets and never leave a pet alone in a car, which can "act as a refrigerator" and hold in cold temperatures.

For bird-feeding enthusiasts, Wild Birds Unlimited offers several tips on its website to help wild birds weather the winter. These include providing some sort of shelter, such as a roosting box or evergreen trees and shrubs, using a heated bird bath to provide water and feeding birds with high-calorie and high-fat foods, such as oil sunflower seeds or suet.

Contact staff writer Alex Harris at aharris@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.