By LINDSEY KING
The new year was off to a cold start last week. Jan. 2 saw snow and a record low temperature of 3 degrees, shattering the previous record of 9 degrees that had been set in 1979.
“This cold weather is definitely not normal for us,” said meteorologist George Mathews at the National Weather Service in Morristown. “We had temperatures well below normal for at least a week or so, stretching back to around Christmas, I believe.”
This unusually cold weather was the result of forces from far beyond the Northeast Tennessee region.
“We’ve had really strong high pressure out of the western United States,” said Mathews. “That has allowed the cold air to come down into the eastern U.S. and kind of be locked in. That pattern gave us the colder than normal temperatures.”
Colder than normal temperatures extended to Sunday, Jan. 6, when the region matched the 2014 record low of 2 degrees.
Because of the cold and the limited snowfall it brought, students in Washington County received an extended winter break. Hazardous road conditions meant county schools could not resume classes on Jan. 2 as they had scheduled, and schedule changes continued into early this week.
Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal said that he did not believe there had been a remarkable increase in the number of vehicle crashes related to the cold weather.
Instead, officers received more calls relating to the elderly and isolated relatives.
“When the weather is this cold, we get calls to check on elderly citizens and other people whose relatives haven’t been able to get ahold of them,” Graybeal said. “We try to get out there and make contact with them and let them know to call their relatives. We make sure the older people are doing fine and that their heat is working.”
The NWS estimates that about 20 percent of cold-related deaths happen inside the person’s home, and those over 65 are more susceptible.
When performing these checks, officers don’t just note the temperature of the house — sometimes they search for those who don’t have relatives to rely on.
“Especially when we’re contacting someone who hasn’t had anything to eat, we try to connect them with people around the county who can help them,” he said. “Some of my officers work in the city; they look for the homeless who may be under the bridges to check on them and to see if they need anything or need to try to get to a shelter.”
In temperatures similar to those the region experienced during the first two days of the year, it takes only 30 minutes of exposure for frostbite to set in.
Forecasts show that Monday’s freezing rain could be the tail end of the winter weather for this week. Temperatures are expected to warm and reach the low 60s by Thursday and Friday, but don’t make plans to be outside; rain showers are predicted for both days.
Temperatures will trend downward again through the weekend. Expect the cold to return with Sunday’s high falling below 30. Monday’s high will be slightly warmer, near 36.