LAURINBURG — With today’s high temperature set to reach only half that of normal, Scotland County is taking precautions against its residents being exposed to frigid temperatures by delaying the start of school and court, stopping utility cut-offs and opening “warming stations” in county-owned facilities.
Scotland County Schools will operate on a two-hour delay today and Wednesday, officials announced Monday morning. The delay is mainly to protect students who have to wait at a bus stop, a spokesperson said.
Phillip McRae, Scotland County’s clerk of court, announced Monday afternoon that court would not begin until 10 a.m. today.
The American Red Cross is teaming up with Scotland County Parks and Recreation to open up Scotland Place and the Wagram Recreation Center as “warming stations,” for those who may need to shake off the winter chill. Scotland Place will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Wagram Recreation Center will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“We wanted to make it available for folks to sit down, warm up, and we will assess the need for it the next day,” said Carol Ann Lentz, disaster program manager for the Red Cross.
The Scotland County Library, too, will be used by those who are seeking warmth, said library director Leon Gyles. Those seeking a respite from the cold, he said, are welcome as always, as long as they do not create a disruption.
There is no overnight shelter available, but restaurants such as McDonald’s and the Waffle House will be open tonight. Scotland County has no homeless shelters.
Utility customers of the city of Laurinburg and Duke Energy who face a disconnection because of non-payment will have a reprieve until later in the week, when temperatures are expected to return to normal.
According to Finance Director Cindy Carpenter, the city of Laurinburg will for the first time employ an “Extreme Weather Ordinance,” adopted on May 21, that prevents the disconnection of water/sewer or electrical services on extremely hot or cold days, meaning days above 100 degrees or below 32 degrees.
Duke Energy has a similar policy, according to spokesperson Kristina Hill. Neither policies absolve the customer of their responsibility to pay their bill.
“Duke Energy will voluntarily suspend non-pay disconnects for the safety of our customers, this does not eliminate responsibility on the customer’s part,” Hill said.
Calls to Lumbee River Electric Cooperation, which supplies power to some parts of Scotland County, were not returned.
Barrett Smith, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh, on Monday advised residents to stay indoors as much as possible and to keep water dripping through pipes susceptible to freezing.
“Highs are going to struggle to get out of the mid-20s,” he said. “Rural areas of Scotland County could be colder than that.”
Today will not see the wind chills that made Monday night feel -5 degrees, but temperatures tonight are expected to dip to 16 degrees before rising to the 40s on Wednesday.
While the weather is some of the coldest in years in North Carolina, similar temperatures were recorded in Fayetteville in the 1990s.
The cold temps have prompted today’s closure of the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, but staff will report as usual to ensure the comfort of the animals. Others have also advised extra precautions for keeping animals warm, including bringing outdoor pets inside.
“We’re not use to the temperatures around here and the animals aren’t either,” said David Hardy, animal control officer.
“During the cold weather pets should be kept inside as much as possible but especially at night and early mornings when the lowest temperatures occur,” said Kathy Wallace, adoption/rescue coordinator at the Humane Society of Scotland County.
Hardy said leaving an animal outside overnight was “worst case scenario” and urged people to bring their pets indoors. Hardy said that pet owners can “be charged if (their pets) show any kind of signs of health problems to the extent of death.”
According to Melinda McMillan, director of the county’s Humane Society, North Carolina law states that pets must be provided with outdoor shelter. Hardy said offenders could be charged with animal cruelty. An arrest won’t be made unless the process “takes a turn” for the worse, he said.
“We usually don’t go that far unless someone’s being belligerent,” he said.
Hardy suggested that giving pets warm water to drink, “putting cedar shavings in your dog house” or “putting a tarp on top of your dog house and on the sides” would help a lot in making sure pets are as warm as possible and safe.
The Humane Society of Scotland County on Monday displayed tips for keeping pets warm on its Facebook page, including adding straw to the animal’s shelter, insulating it using wool or synthetic blankets or hanging a flap across the shelter doorway. Pets need extra food, according to the society, to help keep their body temperature regulated.
One thing locals don’t seem to be too worried about is the county’s crop, which at this time is mostly wheat, according to county Extension Director Randy Wood.
Wood said because the crop is immature it should pull through the cold snap with minimal damage. He said area trees and shrubs “might have some injuries, but nothing terrible.”
Borderline tropical plants, like palm trees and oleander, could be killed, Wood said, but local crops like azaleas will be fine.
For those with a green thumb, protecting your investment can be as easy as draping a bed sheet or a drop cloth over a plant, helping to seal in any heat the soil contains, according to Mary Hollingsworth, Hoke County extension agent.
Hollingsworth also said an 100-watt bulb placed near a small tree can help curb damage, as can watering near a plant, as water retains heat better than dry soil. Succulents, however, have leaves filled with water which could burst and split open.
Rachel McAuley, staff writer for The Laurinburg Exchange, contributed to this story.