Arctic blast to bring bitterly cold weather to Chattanooga area

Travel expected to be affected across the country

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / With frost on the ground and a sprinkling of stars in the sky Wednesday, a waning crescent moon hangs over predawn traffic on Davidson Road in East Brainerd. Winter began with the solstice at 4:47 p.m. Wednesday.  Winter will be here with sub-freezing temperatures in the forecast beginning Friday.
Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / With frost on the ground and a sprinkling of stars in the sky Wednesday, a waning crescent moon hangs over predawn traffic on Davidson Road in East Brainerd. Winter began with the solstice at 4:47 p.m. Wednesday. Winter will be here with sub-freezing temperatures in the forecast beginning Friday.

An arctic blast is expected to bring the coldest temperatures to Chattanooga in nearly eight years early Friday when temperatures are forecast to sink into the single digits.

As winter officially arrived Wednesday, the National Weather Service predicted temperatures in the city will drop to 8 or 9 degrees in the predawn hours Friday and rise to the mid-teens Friday afternoon in the coldest weather in Chattanooga since January 2015.

A trace of snow is expected in Chattanooga on Friday, and wind gusts are forecast up to 30 mph, which will push the wind chill index, or how cold it feels, into subzero temperatures.

"We're going to have a big surge of arctic air move across much of the country and could bring the wind chill to the lowest we've had in this area in years," Kyle Snowdin, the meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tennessee, said in a phone interview Wednesday. "We're only expecting a dusting of snow in Chattanooga, but with the cold weather, we're going to have very strong winter winds."

Friday's low is expected to set a record in Chattanooga for the day before Christmas Eve. In response, homeless missions are opening their cold weather shelters and utilities in Chattanooga are bracing for higher energy consumption and the possibility of more frozen or broken water lines and pipes where they are exposed to the cold.

"We've opened our cold weather shelter up 14 times already this winter when the weather approached the freezing mark, and we have been housing 45 or 50 folks on most of those nights," Baron King, CEO of the Chatt Foundation, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "But with as cold as it looks like it is going to be Thursday night and Friday, I think we could reach our capacity of all 165 spaces. We're trying to serve and help everyone we can."


Travel impact

For the nearly 113 million Americans that AAA forecasts will travel away from their homes during the holidays, the arctic weather may complicate many of those trips.

Forecasters predict an onslaught of heavy snow, ice, flooding and powerful winds from Thursday to Saturday in a broad swath of the country, from the Plains and Midwest to the East Coast. The weather service estimates about 190 million Americans are under some type of winter weather advisory.

All Georgia Express Lanes will close at midnight Thursday into Friday, and Georgia's Department of Transportation urged motorists in Northwest Georgia to plan now to limit travel late Thursday and Friday if snow or ice develops in the area.

The Alabama Department of Transportation also warned motorists Wednesday to prepare for possible dangerous road conditions as an arctic cold front moves across the state Thursday and Friday.

"Based on current forecasts, ALDOT anticipates the precipitation and sustained subfreezing temperatures to be a challenge in much of North Alabama," Josh Phillips, public information officer for the Alabama Department of Transportation, said in a travel advisory issued Wednesday.

The Federal Aviation Administration said flight delays due to snow and wind gusts were possible in Minneapolis, Chicago and Denver.

Delta, American, United, Frontier, Alaska, Southwest and other airlines were waiving change fees and offering travelers the option of choosing new flights to avoid the bad weather.

Greyhound canceled bus service on 25 routes for Wednesday and Thursday, including some routes to Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis and Nashville. And Amtrak has canceled train service from multiple locations, including Seattle, Chicago and New York, throughout the next several days.

Avoiding frozen pipes

For those staying home for the holidays, the local water utility is urging residents check any exposed pipes or outdoor faucets to avoid freeze damage and, where possible, to insulate pipes, disconnect outdoor hoses or keep a trickle of water flowing through faucets.

"With extreme low temperatures predicted this long holiday weekend, we recommend that customers take a few simple steps to help protect their pipes from freezing," Tennessee American Water Vice President of Operations Doug Wagner said in a consumer advisory notice this week. "Completing these tasks ahead of time can save the stress and cost of dealing with potential damaged pipes."

Property owners are responsible for the maintenance of the water service line from the meter to the house, as well as any in-home pipes. Daphne Kirksey, external relations manager for Tennessee American Water, said in an emailed statement that frozen water lines typically occur in areas such as crawl spaces or along the outside walls where unprotected plumbing tends to be more vulnerable to the elements.

Kirksey said the water utility has additional materials on hand for repairs in anticipation of main breaks caused by the cold weather.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which supplies electricity to more than 10 million people in its seven-state service territory, also is preparing for the cold weather and an expected jump in electricity use as electric furnaces and heaters work to keep homes and businesses warm amid the cold weather.

TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said Wednesday that TVA expects power demand to top 30,000 megawatts of electricity early Friday for the first time this winter.

"TVA will be running all our available generation to meet that peak demand, and as always, we have the ability to purchase power as needed during those periods," Brooks said in a phone interview Wednesday. "We also have our combustion turbines that we will call on to help meet these peak demands as much as necessary."

The peak demand forecast for Friday is projected to be far below TVA's all-time power peak of 33,482 megawatts reached during a summer heatwave on Aug. 16, 2007. Although temperatures are expected to be the lowest in nearly a decade, schools, colleges and many businesses are shut down for the holidays, limiting some of the demand for electricity.

TVA does not expect to initiate any energy conservation directives or rolling blackouts during the cold weather ahead, Brooks said.


To help avoid frozen pipes:

— Disconnect garden hoses from your home. If you have an irrigation system, make sure it is turned off and drained.

— Search your house for uninsulated water pipes, especially in unheated areas. Check attics, crawl spaces and outside walls. Consider wrapping pipes with insulation sleeves. Newspaper or fabric can also be used.

— Seal cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations with caulking to keep cold air away from pipes.

— Set the thermostat no lower than 55 degrees if you’re going out of town. Although you may be able to get away with a lower temperature, this setting is safe for pipes.

— When below-freezing temperatures occur, keep a slow trickle of water flowing through faucets supplied by pipes that run through unheated or unprotected spaces. This will help prevent the water in pipes from freezing.

— Keep kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors open to allow warm air to circulate around the pipes.

— Make sure you know where your main water shut-off valve is inside your home so that you can shut off your water quickly in the event of a water pipe leak. This valve is often in a utility room, closet or in the basement or crawlspace.

— If your pipes do freeze, shut off the water immediately. Don’t attempt to thaw pipes without first turning off the main shut-off valve.

— Be careful turning water back on. Once pipes are thawed, slowly turn the water back on and check pipes and joints for cracks or leaks.

To help limit energy use and bills during the cold:

— Avoid running major appliances during the peak demand hours (approximately 7 to 10 a.m. each day).

— Open window blinds on the sunny side of your house to allow radiant heat.

— Turn your thermostat down. You can save up to 3% for every degree you lower your thermostat.

Sources: Tennessee American Water Co., Tennessee Valley Authority

Contact Dave Flessner at or 423-757-6340.

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