By Beth Lawrence
Portions of Jackson County experienced winter weather Tuesday morning, with near record-low temperatures Wednesday morning.
There was little or no snow reported in the county, but some areas, including parts of Cherokee, received sleet. Wednesday’s low in downtown Sylva was 16 degrees.
HERE (Housing, Equity, Resources and Education) was working to protect the area’s most vulnerable residents.
The nonprofit that works to aid the county’s homeless in getting back on their feet has implemented its short term emergency shelter program. The system works with local hotels to place people who have nowhere else to go during the coldest part of the year.
By Monday, HERE had placed 13 people and was working to field additional requests on Tuesday.
“We are prioritizing people who are literally without shelter, people living in tents, people living in cars, people whose health and safety are currently at risk,” said Destri Leger, housing case manager. “Once all that need is met, we will open up to people who are couch surfing, housing insecure and pending homeless.”
Temperatures are set to rise gradually over the weekend, but they will remain below normal, National Weather Service Meteorologist Lauren Carroll said.
During the below average spell, HERE is looking for volunteers, particularly people willing to help with its Code Purple, or emergency response to hazardous conditions.
“We’re still strengthening our Code Purple protocol, especially with it being such a large county and limited transportation,” Leger said.
The agency also needs warm items such as blankets, coats, gloves and hats, Leger said.
While getting people out of the cold is the priority, HERE also coordinates to provide food, clothing and other services that those facing homelessness need.
Anyone in need of emergency shelter can call the intake line at 477-4946. If no one answers leave a message. Staff members check messages periodically, and someone will respond, Leger said.
Today (Thursday) is expected to be partly sunny with a high of about 50, but not back to normal.
“Highs may be touching the 50s but it will be below average for this time of year,” Carroll said.
“Normal lows are close to freezing. Some spots will be close to normal but within a degree or two of shouting distance.”
Jackson County Schools were closed Tuesday, with an optional teacher workday. Schools operated on a delayed schedule Wednesday.
The school system’s pre-dawn snow patrol, a group of employees who spread out around the county looking at road conditions, found black ice and snow at higher elevations Tuesday morning, Superintendent Kim Elliott said.
Temperatures will not return to average until early next week.
The record low for November was 13 degrees recorded in Cherokee in 1987, Carroll said.
Weather.gov recommends the following tips to protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia and your pets during cold weather:
• Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing. Wear a hat. Try to stay dry and out of the wind. Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from extreme cold. Mittens worn snug at the wrist, are better than gloves.
Weather.gov also suggests bringing pets inside or providing warm shelter, making sure food and water bowls are not frozen and keeping their paws safe from salt used on sidewalks and steps.