Snow in the Valley?! Freeze warning issued in Merced area as temperatures continue to fall

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comDecember 4, 2013 

— Break out the sweaters and turn up the heater – the icy-cold temperatures will keep plummeting this week, possibly bringing some snowfall to the region by Friday, meteorologists said Wednesday.

The overnight temperature in Merced hit a low of 25 degrees Wednesday, but will drop to 23 degrees by tonight, said Jim Andersen, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford.

A hard freeze warning has been issued for the area until 10 a.m. Friday, Andersen said, with a chance of snowfall on the Valley floor by Friday evening.

“This is a very atypical event and it’s pretty rare that we get this cold,” Andersen said. “There’s probably going to be some records broken.”

Last year, the Merced area reached a low of 48 degrees. The average temperature this time of year is about 34 degrees.

The unusually cold weather has impacted the Merced County Rescue Mission, which opened its warming center for the first time Tuesday, according to Executive Director Bruce Metcalf.

The warming center, located behind the Rescue Mission’s building on 1921 Canal St. in Merced, makes available a tent with heaters to residents from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. “Anybody who’s out in the cold doesn’t need to be,” Metcalf said. “We want to direct people to come to our warming tent so they don’t freeze.”

The shelter is also becoming jammed with people trying to escape the frigid cold during the day, and officials are asking for help with donations of warm clothing and blankets.

“We want blankets, coats, sweaters, because people come and they just have a shirt on,” Metcalf said.

Linda Collins, program director for the Challenged Family Resource Center, a Merced-based nonprofit, spent the day Wednesday handing out blankets and jackets to about 80 homeless people.

It’s an annual tradition for the organization, which runs a thrift shop in Atwater, serving a population of people with special needs and disabilities.

“All year long, we gather coats, sweaters, shoes and warm blankets, and once a year we hand those out to people,” Collins said. “When it starts getting cold, you see a real need. It’s our responsibility as a member of the human race to pay it forward and help these people.”

In addition to shielding themselves from the bitter cold, residents should also protect their pets and plants from overnight temperatures.

“Protect the animals by bringing them inside because they’re not used to this cold air,” Andersen said.

Merced Gardens and Nursery co-owner Brad Parkinson recommended covering plants with a thermal blanket, which provides insulation. A plastic sheet can also work, Parkinson said Wednesday, but it can burn leaves that touch the plastic.

“The first thing is to cover the plants if you can, but if the area is too big, you might try to keep things wet by watering,” Parkinson said. “The watered area will stay at 32 degrees until the water freezes. You can also put any kind of empty container over the plants, like a flower pot, bucket or trash can.”

Some residents might worry about their electric bills skyrocketing as temperatures continue dropping, but there are several things people can do to control heating costs.

Gina McKay from Ace Air Inc. in Merced said residents shouldn’t crank up the heater when they come home, especially if it’s been turned off all day.

“What happens is your system tends to work harder to try to accomplish what you are setting it to do,” McKay said. “We wouldn’t recommend turning it off completely. At least have it on a reasonable setting that wouldn’t cause the unit to run harder and longer to catch up with the desired temperature.”

Sixty-eight degrees is the recommended temperature for daytime, according to Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s website.

McKay said other tips include having heaters checked annually before the cold season hits, ensuring the ducting is not loose and replacing heating systems more than 25 years old because they’re less energy-efficient.

The good news, according to Anderson, is the cold snap might break by the weekend.

“Were actually going to temporarily warm back up on Friday,” Andersen said, noting that Friday’s forecast calls for a high of 49 degrees and a low of 36 degrees.

Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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