Despite unusually warm weather of late, county officials say they are still preparing for what could eventually be a cold winter.
"We have been told that we can expect a very wet winter. What that means to me is that we have an increased chance of icy weather," said Pam Tucker, Columbia County's director of emergency services.
The county saw a large ice storm in 2004, but less ice in 2005. Tucker said county officials are preparing for bouts of both ice and snow this winter.
"We lie in an iffy area, because we either get it real bad or we're not going to get it at all," Tucker said.
January and February are the coldest months of the year, said Jeff Linton, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in West Columbia, S.C.
Linton said the average high temperature in January is 57 degrees and 61 degrees in February, while the average lows for those months are 33 and 35 respectively.
"The outlook for December through February is looking like it is more likely precipitation to be above normal and temperatures slightly below normal," he said, adding that the forecast means Columbia County's winter will likely bring more clouds and lower temperatures.
Linton said the Augusta area is not prone to snow; usually a mixture of snow and sleet or freezing rain is more likely.
Roads and Bridges Assistant Manager Tim Holloway said despite the fact his department has no snow-removal equipment such as a plow, his staff is ready to convert a fleet of trucks to make sure roads remain drivable for motorists in the case of foul winter weather.
"We actually take out a pothole-patching truck and it serves two functions - of course to patch potholes when we have no snow and ice. But you can put small gravel and salt in with it and spread it on these overpasses and stuff to keep them passable," Holloway said, adding that ice is the most difficult winter problem to handle.
His department is charged with keeping the 660 miles of paved county roads and nine bridges drivable, while the state Department of Transportation is responsible for state highways such as Washington Road, Columbia Road, Belair Road and Furys Ferry Road.
In addition to the two pothole patching trucks that can be converted to spreaders, the department's fleet of trucks are retrofitted with spreaders for salting problem areas.
Holloway said when roads become icy, his staff can be ready to go in a couple of hours and have all nine bridges and problem areas taken care of within two hours.
"Our biggest problems are sprinklers systems. People forget to turn them off," he said, adding that water sprayed into roadways by most business sprinklers can quickly turn to ice when temperatures dip into the 20s and lower.
Even though snow, ice or sleet don't usually stay more than a few days, it can prohibit traveling and shut down nearly everything, Tucker said.
"The biggest problems are keeping the roads open and trying to get people prepared if they lose power," she said. "This is the time to take a look at the tips and get prepared before you lose power."
Snow and ice can build up on power lines, which can cause the lines to break. Tree limbs heavy with snow and ice often fall onto power lines, breaking them.
During a blackout, use flashlights, not candles for emergency lighting, according to tips Tucker posted on the county's Web site, www.columbiacountyga.gov.
Officials also say people should turn off electrical equipment, leaving one light switch on as an alert when power is restored and avoid opening the refrigerator or freezer; doing so allows cold air to escape.
Tucker also suggests assembling a few essential supplies in case of a blackout, including a flashlight, a portable radio or television, a NOAA Alert Radio, a gallon of water per person for three to seven days, non-perishable food and extra batteries.
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