ATLANTA — Bitterly cold temperatures spreading across the Deep South will be potentially deadly, as freezing weather will likely last for several days in a region more accustomed to brief bursts of arctic air than night after night below zero.
Frozen pipes and dead car batteries were concerns from Louisiana to Georgia as overnight temperatures in the teens were predicted across the region by Monday night.
This summer, when Atlanta’s largest homeless shelter closed, its longtime director worried that people would die on the streets.
The upcoming week could test whether she was right, as advocates say they’ve seen far more homeless people living outside this winter than in previous years. The temperature in Atlanta is expected to dip into the low 20s on New Year’s Eve, and plunge into the teens Monday and Tuesday night.
The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory for Beaufort and Jasper counties in South Carolina from 1 to 9 a.m. Monday.
Temperatures could dip below freezing leading to a few hundredths of an inch of ice accumulating on roads, bridges, trees and power lines, forecasters said. There is a 20 percent chance of precipitation.
That’s enough ice to leave slick spots, especially on the dozens of Lowcountry bridges.
Freezing rain and a wintry mix was possible through the weekend, the National Weather Service said. Then, low temperatures could drop below 15 degrees in parts of Louisiana and Mississippi during the first few days of 2018, forecasters said.
In Atlanta, volunteers were preparing to go beneath bridges and other areas where Atlanta’s homeless spend the night. They give them clothing, blankets and other items on the coldest nights of the year.
“A lot of people are ready for the night but occasionally we bump into people who are totally unprepared,” said Drew Benton, whose nonprofit coordinates the volunteer effort. “We’ve seen people in a T-shirt and jeans walking around. We’ve seen children out there before – we’ve seen a lot of circumstances where people are just totally unprepared.”
Benton’s group, Project Live Love, blasts an email to volunteers announcing a “go night” whenever the temperature is expected to fall below 31 degrees. He said they’re prepared to hit the streets and distribute supplies for the next eight nights if the freezing temperatures continue as expected.
One item they hand out is dry socks, which can be a life-saver.
“A lot of our freezes will come with a rain before it and if you get your feet wet, you’re in a lot of trouble,” he said.
The start of the new year will also mark the coldest temperatures in Atlanta since its largest shelter, known as Peachtree-Pine, closed. People who work with the homeless believe that the closure this fall has now exposed more homeless people to the elements.
When Benton’s teams distributed supplies on Dec. 8, “the streets were just covered with people,” he said. Under one bridge downtown, they saw about 150 people trying to stay warm.