Gwinnett gets ready to chill out

LAWRENCEVILLE - Bundle up and prepare to leave a home a little earlier today.

It's getting cold outside - and weather forecasters say the chilly temperatures could be accompanied by sleet or freezing rain this morning.

While weather forecasters couldn't be certain Wednesday how icy it will be today, the National Weather Service has placed Gwinnett and Barrow counties, along with other northeastern Georgia counties, under a wintry weather advisory from midnight until 10 a.m. today, said Frank Taylor, a National Weather Service spokesman in Peachtree City.

"Gwinnett County is in the greatest threat area," which is east of Interstate 285, south of Gainesville and Interstate 985, and north of Macon, Taylor said.

The Weather Service predicts there will be a greater chance of sleet than freezing rain, and ground temperatures will likely prevent an accumulation on roadways, Taylor said. Bridges, overpasses, trees and power lines will be most susceptible to any ice, he said.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is "ready and waiting" for any wintry weather, said Teri Pope, DOT spokeswoman.

Department officials gassed up dump trucks Wednesday and attached snow plows and tailgate spreaders to the trucks. If the trucks are needed, the department would be to work making the roads safe within an hour, Pope said.

If DOT dump trucks are spreading the mixture of gravel and salt on the roads this morning, motorists should not pass the trucks, because stones could get kicked up at the vehicles and break windshields, Pope said.

Motorists should also drive to about half of the normal speed and use a low gear when driving in icy weather, Pope said. It's also important to keep an eye out for black ice, the thin layer of nearly invisible ice that forms on roadways, she said.

School systems will also be monitoring the weather this morning, and local radio and television stations will broadcast information about closings or delays.

Gwinnett County Public Schools will decide by 6 a.m. if they are closing or delaying school today, said Sloan Roach, the school system's spokeswoman.

Gwinnett County will post information about closures in five languages - English, Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish and Bosnian - on its Web site at www.gwinnett.k12.ga.us.

Barrow County will make such decisions by 6:15 a.m. Any delays and closings will also be posted at www.barrow.k12.ga.us.

Buford City Schools officials did not return a phone message seeking comment about inclement weather, but a message posted on the school system's Web site at www.bufordcityschools.org says information about delays and closures would be broadcast on WSB-TV or the radio on 750-AM.

The Gwinnett County Fire Department also offers tips on winter weather emergency planning, said Lt. Thomas Rutledge, the department's spokesman.

Icy conditions can sometimes cause a loss in heat, power, gas and telephone services, Rutledge said.

Households should have an emergency preparedness plan in place, he said.

Rutledge said that plan should include a winter weather kit that can be put together easily. Some items that should be included in the kit are a flashlight, extra batteries, a battery-powered weather radio and portable AM/FM radio, extra nonperishable food and water, extra medications, extra baby items, first-aid supplies, and blankets and extra clothes for warmth.

Homes should be equipped with smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms, he said. Generators and grills should never be used indoors, and space heaters should be placed at least 3 to 4 feet away from anything combustible.

Those who are traveling should carry a winter storm kit in the vehicle that includes a blanket, sleeping bag, flashlight and extra batteries, portable radio, first-aid kid, nonperishable food, bottled water, road flares, extra clothing, tissue paper, a small bucket of sand, waterproof matches, a windshield scraper and jumper cables, Rutledge said.

Anyone who travels should discuss travel plans and routes with family and friends, he said.

Remember that animals are also susceptible to the cold, and pets should be brought indoors or housed in barns during freezes, Rutledge said.