Temp reaches nine degrees

pseligson@newsobserver.comJanuary 11, 2014 

In this photo by Dr. Watson Wharton marked 1926-27, the Neuse River froze during a cold winter.

JOHNSTON COUNTY HERITAGE CENTER

Smithfield came close but didn’t quite dip into single digits during last week’s cold snap.

Early last week, the Polar Vortex descended on the United States, freezing large swaths of the Northeast and Midwest and even bringing temperatures down in the South through Florida. Smithfield hit 11 degrees on the morning of Jan. 7. Raleigh broke a record low, hitting nine degrees that same morning; the previous records was 15 degrees.

“A lot (of records) have stood for maybe 20, 30 years,” said Shawna Cokley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh. “It’s an unusual event, but we do break records a couple times a season.”

The cold temperatures prompted First Baptist Church of Smithfield to open its doors as a shelter. The church partnered with county government to provide security overnight and a medical professional. On Monday, only two people stayed over. On Tuesday, that number grew to four, and on Wednesday, it was five.

The Rev. Lee Colbert, pastor, said people were likely skeptical and might not have heard about the shelter in time to use it. “We have people that we know we serve at the soup kitchen that are homeless,” he said. “You might be able to survive that when it’s 25 degrees outside, but with the temperatures as low as they’ve been, with windchill,” the church was afraid someone might freeze to death.

“I just didn’t want to be part of a community that didn’t try to do something to keep that from happening,” Colbert said.

On Tuesday night, the Smithfield Rescue Mission filled 19 of the 20 beds in its men’s shelter, said Ben Olsen, associate director. The shelter has been able to house up to 25 men on cold nights in the past, he said.

Olsen said some homeless live in tents in more remote parts of the county, and he worries about reaching them in time if the weather gets too cold. Olsen said none of the men on Tuesday showed signs of frostbite or hypothermia.

To stay at the shelter, the men have to be promise to be safe, quiet and sleep, Olsen said “Those nights when it’s below 32 degrees, we will absolutely take any man in who’s willing to do that,” he said.

Suzette Rodriguez, a Johnston Health spokeswoman, said the hospitals in Clayton and Smithfield hadn’t seen any cold-related injuries.

Johnny Beasley, a plumber in Johnston County, said extreme cold can freeze pipes, including pipes “coming up in the house, especially everything that’s not been wrapped up and closed up.”

Beasley suggested wrapping outdoor pipes in weatherproof insulation. Homeowners should wrap pipes first with plastic, then with rags or towels. That way, if the pipe does burst, the rest of the wrap won’t freeze.

“You can always leave a faucet dripping or running in a real small stream,” Beasley said. “It will also help keep water pumps from freezing up because it will let the water pump run every so often.”

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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