Area dodges record cold


Temperatures dipped to 20 degrees Friday morning as an arctic air blast swept across the eastern half of the nation, bringing record cold temperatures to the South.

Published: Saturday, January 25, 2003 at 6:23 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 25, 2003 at 12:00 a.m.
Elsewhere in the South, drivers were slipping and sliding on the ice, and sometimes crashing into one another.
But as Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Mike Burroughs drove to work on the coldest morning in recent memory, the only drivers he saw stranded on the side of the road were the ones who had forgotten to check their antifreeze.
"It's a simple thing, but people in Florida don't know they should do it," said Burroughs, spokesman for FHP's Lake City office, which also covers Gainesville. "We had a lot of people out there with overheated cars. But things could have been a lot worse."
Public safety officials breathed a small sigh of relief Friday morning as Alachua County weathered the first night of a rare arctic blast with few serious mishaps.
Temperatures dipped to 20 degrees Friday morning as an arctic air blast swept across the eastern half of the nation, bringing record cold temperatures to the South. The drop wasn't enough to break the record low of 18 degrees in Alachua County for Jan. 24.
A hard freeze warning earlier this week had firefighters and police scrambling to prepare for fires and traffic problems - but by the afternoon, the area seemed to have dodged a bullet.
"We're very pleased with last night's results," said Stuart Schwartz, spokesman for Gainesville Fire Rescue. "Apparently everyone got the message and was ready for the cold."
The fire department usually sees an increase in house fires during cold spells - mostly because of the improper use of space heaters. But not a single weather-related fire was reported in Gainesville on Thursday night or Friday morning.
Alachua County firefighters were a little more busy. At about 8:30 a.m., firefighters were called to put out a blaze that destroyed a mobile home at 521 Kings Court in the Clayton Estates neighborhood. Firefighters have yet to determine the cause of the blaze. No one was hurt in the fire.
About an hour later, firefighters were summoned to put out a fire that burned 3 acres in the Kanapaha Highlands mobile home park on SW 104 Terrace. No one was hurt in the blaze, but it did damage a car and came within five feet of two mobile homes.
Alachua County Fire Rescue spokesman Justin Lagotic said the fire was caused by a Kanapaha Highlands resident who tried to use a cigarette lighter to thaw the frozen pump on a well.
"He should have used a hair dryer," said Stan Griffis, owner of Aquarius Water Systems, a well-drilling company in Alachua. "Works every time, and you don't melt everything around the pump."
Griffis had plenty of business Friday, as well-water users around the county woke to find their water pumps frozen solid. Normally Griffis advises his customers to leave their water running overnight to avoid a freeze - but with temperatures in the 20s, even the best advice can fall short.
"I have four spigots at my office, and I ran a pencil-thick flow out of every one of them all night," Griffis said. "Every one of them froze solid."
Customers of Gainesville Regional Utilities ran into a few problems, too. GRU workers spent much of Friday turning on pilot lights in homes and businesses near Royal Park Plaza on W. University Avenue, after a sudden gas outage left 20 to 30 buildings without heat between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. GRU spokesman Dan Jesse said high demand for gas briefly sucked all the pressure out of gas lines in the area.
About 4,000 people living west of NW 34th Street lost electricity for an hour and a half Friday afternoon, but GRU officials say the outage was because of equipment failure, not weather.
GRU customers also consumed a record amount of electricity - or at least a record for the winter - Friday morning.
"We set our all-time winter peak at about 6:45 this morning, when everyone was getting up to go to work," Jesse said. Gainesville consumes far more power in the summer, Jesse noted, when air-conditioners are full blast - but Friday's output, he said, rivaled the power consumption on a hot summer day.
Highway Patrol officers and Gainesville Police reported no weather-related traffic accidents by Friday night - a fact they attribute to dry weather. While the cold snap dumped snow and ice on places that rarely see it, - including Daytona Beach, where snow flurries were spotted - Alachua County didn't get a drop of precipitation.
But that didn't stop them from worrying about what might happen Friday night and this morning. As of late Friday afternoon, temperatures were forecast to drop into the teens. Today's high is forecasted to be 55 with temperatures tonight dipping into the 30s.
"We're just hoping no one slacks up, and everyone stays safe," Schwartz said.
Tim Lockette can be reached at 374-5088 or lockett@gvillesun. com.

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