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Bundle up; it's cold

After five seconds outside, it should start to sink in — this is no Palm Beach.

With temperatures dipping down into the mid-20s below zero Thursday night and into this morning and highs today expected to be around minus 7 degrees, weather experts are recommending people take extreme caution when going outside.

The low temperatures also have gas companies taking precautions and predicting near-record usage of natural gas for heating.

The cold weather also had city crews scrambling to fix a water main leak Thursday before it could create a hazard.

The National Weather Service in Great Falls predicted temperatures around minus 10 to minus 5 degrees today with fairly calm wind speeds of 4 to 5 mph.

"Even on short trips, be prepared for something to go wrong," said Chris Zelzer, meteorologist at the NWS. "Exposed flesh can be frozen quite quickly."

Though windchill probably wouldn't be much of a factor today, Zelzer said, it's still important to dress warmly and take precautions.

"It's still going to be cold, that's for sure," he said.

Mark Frahm, utility systems supervisor for the City of Great Falls, said city crews were working quickly Thursday to fix a leaking water main at the intersection of 30th Avenue Northeast and Division Road. The leak was not caused by the cold weather, he said.

"The cold really hasn't caused any leaks at this time," he said. "It hasn't been cold long enough. No matter how minor a leak might be, it causes such a mess with the freezing conditions and creates a hazard for the traveling public."

Frahm said city crews always stay prepared for cold conditions during the winter months.

"We have our equipment winterized and are ready to go at any time," he said.

John Allen, senior vice-president of Energy West, said the company is expecting high use of natural gas for heating this week.

Allen said it is estimated that Energy West customers in Great Falls will use 35 million MMBTUs Thursday and today. MMBTU, or million British thermal units, is a measure used by the utility company. The peak use of natural gas in one day was 41 million MMBTUs.

NorthWestern Energy, which owns the pipeline that pumps natural gas into Great Falls, has issued a system constraint alert for natural gas companies, Allen said. This means shippers must deliver the amount of gas they expect customers to use.

Normally, companies can ship 10 percent over or under that amount, Allen said.

"The pipeline us gearing up for a fairly significant event," Allen said.

The second-warmest January on record has put consumption of natural gas down, and Energy West has more gas stored than it anticipated, Allen said.

However, the full effect of this week's cold snap won't be known until next week's billing cycle, he said.

Reach Tribune Staff Writer Clifton Adcock at 791-6560, (800) 438-6600 or cadcock@greatfal.gannett.com.

Originally published February 17, 2006

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A Canada goose snuggles into its feathers to keep warm at Gibson Park in Great Falls on Thursday morning. MORE ONLINE: See www.greatfallstribune and click on "Animals, animals, animals" for a growing collection of wildlife photos captured by Tribune photographers. You'll also find more tips on surviving winter in Montana and up-to-date road conditions.

Extreme cold can be deadly for pets

Pets are vulnerable in cold weather. Here are some tips for taking care of them:

Bring pets inside when cold weather sets in. If this is not possible than you must provide proper shelter from the elements. A dog house should be large enough for your dog to sit and lie down in, but small enough to keep in body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. The house should face away from the wind and the doorway should be covered with a waterproof material like heavy plastic or rubber.

Provide waterand make sure it's not freezing. Do not use metal pans for food or water as they can cause pets tongues to stick and freeze to them.

Cats should never be allowed out during the cold.

Never let your dog off its leash in the snow, especially during a snowstorm. Dogs can lose their sense of smell in winter weather and become lost. In fact, more dogs are reported lost during the winter than any other season.

Wipe off your dog's legs and bellywhen she comes into the house after a "potty break" or a walk. This removes any salt, anti-freeze or other chemicals that can be harmful to pets.

Short-haired dogs or dogs that are groomed during winter should have a sweater or coat. This "luxury" is a necessity for many dogs.

Never shave your pet down to the skin during the winter and make sure your dog is completely dry after a bath before you take it outdoors.

Provide indoor pets a nice warm placeto sleep that is away from drafts and off the floor, such as a pet bed with a warm blanket or pillow in it.

If you think your pet has frostbite or hypothermia,contact your veterinarian promptly for advice.

—Source: Mondak Humane Society

Watch out for frostbite

Frostbite occurs when the skin becomes cold enough to actually freeze. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes. It can cause permanent damage and may even lead to amputation.

Those most vulnerable to frostbite include people with poor blood circulation and those who don't dress properly for extreme cold. Signs are numbness, a whitish or grayish-yellow skin area, and skin that feels unusually firm or waxy.

If you see signs of frostbite, seek medical care. If immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:

l Get the victim into a warm room as soon as possible.

l Don't walk on frostbitten feet or toes unless absolutely necessary.

l Immerse the affected area in warm — not hot — water or warm the area using body heat.

l Do not massage the frostbitten area or rub it with snow.

l Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace or radiator. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.

Source: Montana Department of Health and Human Services

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