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East Texas braces for deep freeze

By Meredith Shamburger
Dec. 28, 2017 at 11:25 p.m.

Mark Jones at New Orleans Gardens in Longview lifts one of the covers Thursday used to protect plants from freezing temperatures. Covers should be removed from plants once temperatures get above freezing, professionals caution.

A blast of arctic air this holiday weekend will send temperatures in the Longview area plunging to lows that could challenge century-old records.

The National Weather Service forecasts show East Texas should see temperatures this weekend in the low 20s overnight and hovering above freezing during the day — but a slight chance of winter precipitation depends entirely on timing, meteorologist Mario Valverde said.

Forecasts with a hint of rain, around 20 percent Saturday, have temperatures staying above freezing. Sleet or snow could be possible, Valverde said, only if temperatures drop lower than expected and if the chance of rain increases.

"Right now, we're not calling for that," he said.

The weather service's forecast calls for highs of 48 degrees Saturday with overnight temperatures in the low 30s. A high of 38 degrees is predicted Sunday with overnight temperatures in the low 20s.

It gets even colder on New Year's Day, with a high of only 32 degrees and a low of might-as-well-stay-inside 19 degrees.

"It's going to get really chilly," Valverde said. "We're going to talk about some low temperatures probably in the 20s across this area."

Freezing temperatures also mean East Texas officials and residents are working to prevent weather-related problems.

Crews with the Texas Department of Transportation were out Thursday and will be out again today to spray major highways, bridges and overpasses with a brine solution to prevent freezing.

TxDOT encourages drivers to use extreme caution in winter weather conditions, especially on bridges, overpasses and other areas that tend to freeze first.

Animal control officers with the city of Longview have been busy this week doing welfare checks ahead of the cold front.

Longview Animal Care and Adoption Center Animal Supervisor Chris Kemper said the upcoming weather can be "absolutely deadly" for animals.

"I know up North they deal with these temperatures all the time, but the problem down here is our animals, just like our people, are not used to those types of temperatures," Kemper said. "So it's a shock on their bodies when temperatures get that low. Part of having an animal is making sure that you do the things necessary to protect them."

He said pet owners should bring their animals indoors this weekend, whether inside the house or just inside the garage so that they have adequate and insulated shelter.

Owners who absolutely can't bring pets inside should take the necessary precautions to protect their animals from the elements. That means items such as insulated dog houses with bedding that are in a location away from the wind.

Kemper said this weekend's weather forecast brought back memories of a 2014 case in which a dog chained outside froze to death. The dog's two owners were prosecuted and convicted, and Kemper said authorities are prepared to do the same if it happens again.

"It's something that we will be looking at, and we will prosecute, but, of course, by the time we get to that point, the animal's already lost," he said. "So what we want is, people to take precautions before we end up with frozen animals."

Garden and landscape professionals, meanwhile, are encouraging residents to prepare plants and other foliage.

Coverings on plants should be open to the ground to allow natural heat while also ensuring that the covering does not touch the plant.

Plant coverings should be used right before the freeze and removed as soon as temperatures go back up so that the plant can breathe. Container plants should be moved inside as much as feasible or close to the home on a covered porch.

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