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Experts stress cold weather safety ahead of a frigid holiday weekend

With a cold front expected to hit the east coast this weekend, experts are reminding people of cold weather safety tips ahead of the holidays.

An arctic cold front is forecasted to sweep into Florida beginning Friday. The Panhandle and North Florida are expected to see the coldest temperatures, with lows falling below freezing and staying frigid through the holiday weekend. Central Florida could see freezing temperatures just north of the Tampa and Orlando. South and Southwest Florida could feel temperature lows in the 40s and 50s over Christmas Eve and Christmas.

The National Weather Service in Mobile-Pensacola issued a special weather statement on Tuesday asking residents of Escambia, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa County to prepare for “bitterly cold temperatures” and to monitor the forecast closely through the end of the week. A hard freeze watch was also issued for these counties Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the National Weather service in Tallahassee issued a similar Special Weather Statement warning of "bitterly cold temperatures, strong winds, and dangerous wind chills" for Calhoun, Walton, Bay, Dixie, Franklin, Gulf, Jefferson, Taylor, Wakulla, Gadsen, Holmes, Jackson, Lafayette, Leon, Liberty, Madison and Washington Counties.

In a statement by phone, NWS Tallahassee said they do not foresee icy roads or other travel issues this week.

“We like to use this catchphrase when it comes to cold weather: people, pets, plants and pipes,” said Director of Emergency Management of Alachua County Jen Grice.

First, Grice said to limit time outside and stay inside where it is warm. She said if you do not have warm clothes for outdoor activities, local thrift stores can be an affordable option for building a cold weather wardrobe.

Randall Cantrell, an associate professor in the department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences at the Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences at the University of Florida, has written about preparing for cold weather events, though they are rare in the state.

He said to make sure all extremities are covered by using hats or gloves. He also said to wear warm shoes, even if you don’t expect to be outdoors for a long time.

“The farther your body parts are from your heart,” he said, “the more difficult it is to keep them warm.”

Even if dangerous driving conditions are not forecasted, Grice said it is a good idea to keep an emergency kit in your car year-round, including blankets. Especially during a busy travel time like Christmas, you never know if you may experience travel delays like a car breaking down, Cantrell said.

“It’s all about expecting the unexpected,” he said.

For pets, Grice said not to leave your animals outside for a long period of time, even if your pet typically lives outdoors. Cantrell said to treat your pets how you would like to be treated. If you must leave your pets outdoors, reinforce their shelter with straw or blankets.

Grice said plants should be covered by a sheet or tarp to keep the frost off, or if they are small, to bring them inside. For pipes, Grice said to wrap outdoor piping in protective coverings to prevent freezing.

Cantrell also stresses to make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector in your home if you plan to use gas powered devices such as a gas stove or a propane fireplace. Both Grice and Cantrell said to use caution when using a space heater, which are known to start fires, making sure not to burn yourself or place the heater near flammable objects.

Grice said to use this chilly holiday weekend as an opportunity to spend time indoors with your family. Cantrell said this is an opportunity to take care of each other.

“Always err on the side of caution and check on people, especially older people,” he said, “It’s just a simple text or drive by, and it can save a life.”

Correction: A previous version of this story referred to a carbon monoxide detector as a "CO2 detector." The mistake has been corrected.