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June 14, 2024

Plumbers Overwhelmed As Record Cold Grips Nation

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Jan 13, 2024

A brutal arctic cold front is sweeping across much of the country, bringing life-threatening subzero temperatures and wind chills. As homes and buildings struggle to stay warm, a grave threat looms for unprotected water pipes. Frigid air can quickly freeze pipes, causing them to burst and flood properties with enormous damage.

As temperatures plunge, demand for plumbing services has hit record highs in many states. “Our phones are ringing off the hook with calls from desperate homeowners needing pipe repairs and advice on prevention,” said Jean Smith, owner of Smith Plumbing in Des Moines, Iowa.

With extreme cold forecast to last over a week in some areas, preventing frozen pipes is crucial. Below are tips from professional plumbers and agencies on how to avoid pipe disasters during this unprecedented deep freeze event.

Set Thermostat No Lower Than 55°F

Even modern homes with good insulation can quickly drop below freezing inside if the thermostat is turned too low.

“We always advise homeowners to maintain at least 55 degrees during extreme cold snaps,” says licensed plumber Tyler Green of Green Plumbing in Minneapolis. “Any colder than that, and pipes on exterior walls or in unheated areas become prone to freezing, even if you take other precautions like opening cabinet doors.”

Energy bills will likely run higher during this high-demand event, but the alternative could be massive flooding and destruction if pipes freeze and rupture.

Dripping Faucets Can Save Uninsulated Pipes

For pipes exposed to freezing temperatures, a slight constant flow of water can prevent ice blockages from forming.

“If you have pipes running through unheated crawl spaces, garages, or attics, it’s vital to keep water moving through them,” advises Green. He says to turn on each cold water tap just enough so it’s continuously dripping. Hot water pipes should be safe if the water heater is operating properly.

Protect Exposed Outdoor Pipes

Any pipe or fixture extending outside is extremely vulnerable to freezing. These include hose bibs, sprinkler lines, pool plumbing, and outdoor spigots.

Green says outdoor pipes should be drained and shut off if possible and protected with insulation wraps. Hose bibs should have the hoses detached and be covered with Styrofoam caps.

Forgetting to detach garden hoses is a common mistake according to Mike Hartwell, owner of Hartwell Plumbing in Denver. “The hose fills with freezing water and that ice works its way backwards into the pipe joint. Then you’re hit with a nasty leak come spring.”

Open Cabinet Doors to Allow Heat Circulation

Warm indoor air won’t effectively reach uninsulated pipes in exterior walls or unheated areas unless cabinet doors around them are opened.

“Allowing air flow is crucial to prevent freezing of under-sink or other enclosed water lines,” says Hartwell. “Just opening those doors makes a huge difference for heat circulation.”

What To Do If Pipes Freeze & Burst

If despite preventative measures, pipes still end up freezing, time is critical. The first priority is shutting off the water valve supplying the affected lines to prevent further flooding when thawing occurs.

Professional assistance is usually required for serious freeze damage, but if a licensed plumber can’t immediately respond, Hartwell advises attempting to gently heat the frozen section with a hairdryer if the pipe is easily accessible.

“Never try to thaw a pipe with an open flame or torch…that could make the leak much worse if the pipe bursts,” he warned.

Historic Storm Could Overwhelm Plumbers

With record lows stretching across half the country simultaneously along with power and heating fuel outages in some areas, demand for plumbing disaster response is expected to overwhelm capacity in impacted regions.

Travel treachery from ice and snow will also hinder plumbers’ response times. To avoid long delays in emergency repairs, preventative action before pipes become obstructed is imperative during this extreme weather siege.


Millions At Risk Nationwide

Never before has such a wide swath of the United States been hit by subzero cold penetrating so far South all at once, according to National Weather Service records.

Over 200 million Americans face below freezing temperatures for multiple days. The Arctic blast will deliver some of the coldest readings in decades.

Actual air temperatures will plummet below zero across parts of the Northern Plains and Great Lakes early this week with the combined effects of frigid winds making it feel like -40° to -60°F or worse (see wind chill chart below).

But even Deep South states like Alabama and Mississippi will struggle to rise above freezing for daytime highs Tuesday through Friday as the polar vortex dives unusually deep into Dixie with 15 to 25+ mph winds.

Wind chill temperature chart

*Sustained winds of 15-25 mph will result in brutally dangerous wind chills across the Central states.—Image: NWS*

This puts over 70% of U.S. population at high risk for frost bite or hypothermia with even moderate outdoor exposure.

Plunging temperatures also threaten livestock and pets left unprotected outside. Pipes will certainly freeze and burst in homes left unheated for prolonged periods.

Historic Cold Dish Could Break Records

The National Weather Service warns this extreme cold outbreak will likely shatter dozens of all-time record lows across multiple states over the next seven days:

State Location Forecast Low Temp Record Low
Nebraska Omaha -21°F -23°F (1889)
Iowa Des Moines -26°F -26°F (1888)
Illinois Chicago -27°F -27°F (1985)
Michigan Detroit -18°F -21°F (1920)
Kentucky Louisville -14°F -22°F (1884)
Tennessee Memphis -11°F -13°F (1885)
Alabama Birmingham +8°F +2°F (1966)
Mississippi Jackson +6°F +6°F (1966)
Georgia Atlanta +12°F +8°F (1985)
North Carolina Raleigh +9°F 0°F (1966)
South Carolina Columbia +18°F +11°F (1985)
Texas Dallas -5°F -8°F (1889)

Based on the latest forecast models, dozens of cities have a realistic chance of hitting their all-time record lows during this weather fiasco. For example, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis and Cleveland are all currently predicted to sink within 1° to 2° degrees of their current record coldest temperatures ever documented.


Fuel Shortages Add Crisis On Top Of Crisis

As if the impending record cold wasn’t bad enough, shortages in heating fuels are further amplifying the crisis across the Eastern Half of the nation.

A recent refinery fire combined with extreme winter heating demand has critically depleted stocks of propane in several Midwestern and Northeastern states.

Governors have already declared energy emergencies and are implementing propane rationing and using emergency resources to procure extra supplies for their states. But despite these efforts, hundreds of thousands of homes have already run out of propane and heating oil during this brutal cold spell.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin said this week: “I cannot overstate the concern I have for Virginians needing emergency heating supply and assistance. A crisis response is beyond urgent.”

For families impacted by heating fuel outages, staying warm will be difficult at best, even life threatening at worst. House fires also become more common as people desperately try alternative heating methods like electric space heaters.

Traffic Nightmares As Black Ice Strikes

Adding to the collective seasonal misery, most major Midwest and Northeast corridors face major traffic disruptions and dangerous travel conditions due to snow, wind and black ice on roadways.

Hundreds of accidents clogged metro areas Thursday after overnight snow turned to slippery ice as temperatures rapidly plunged. Flights have also been grounded by the thousands as jet fuel gelled in the extreme cold.

Road crews can’t keep up treating the streets, as bitter winds just blow more snow and re-freeze surfaces as quickly as they’re clearing them.

Many schools have closed, and governments are telling residents to work from home and avoid any unnecessary travel if possible. But for those needing to commute, journeys are taking 4 times longer than normal.

So not only are homes freezing with dead furnaces, but residents also risk skidding off icy roads should they attempt a heating fuel run or try reaching a shelter.

Dangers will only amplify after dark each day…overnight lows could shatter more records into next week. So far, at least a dozen weather-related deaths are being blamed on the paralyzing cold and icy conditions.

Warming Centers At Capacity

From the Southern Plains across the Great Lakes and into New England, community warming shelters are overflowing beyond safe capacity limits trying to handle an influx of vulnerable citizens seeking refuge from the deadly chill.

Local fire chiefs and Red Cross leaders have put out urgent calls for additional volunteers and emergency supplies like cots and blankets.

Macon County EMA Director Andrew Bell pleaded: “If anyone can safely travel to assist with our overflow crowd at the shelter, we desperately need more hands on deck immediately.”

But even facilities like recreation centers, churches and libraries setup as secondary makeshift shelters quickly filled past Covid-level occupancy once they opened doors to snowbound citizens without power or heat.

Some sites are getting creative with setting up heated tents to handle the overload, as overnight temperatures are expected to drop another 15°F Wednesday night, creating even higher demand.

Local officials warn unless additional state and federal disaster resources are mobilized soon, many stranded individuals will be tragically beyond rescue help in their dangerously exposed predicament.

The message is clear…anyone lacking proper provisions to safely ride out this crippling cold blast needs to urgently seek professional emergency shelter before it’s too late. Don’t try being a hero by attempting to brave these historic lows alone without power or working furnace.

Are We Prepared For Next MegaOutbreak?

This simultaneous widespread deep freeze catastrophe befalling much of the nation’s interior raises grave concerns about disaster preparedness and infrastructure resilience for extreme events in a climate change world.

If so many communities are overwhelmed by a winter storm, how much worse could impacts be from other scenarios like earthquake, mega-drought or a new pandemic outbreak?

Emergency planners will certainly scrutinize the response breakdowns happening across middle America right now. Heartland citizens freezing in the dark while broken supply chains fail to deliver adequate propane or engineering safe travel lanes may become more commonplace threats emerging in our globally warmed future.

Clearly, despite our advanced 21st century technology and wealth when compared to our ancestors…modern society remains frighteningly fragile to episodes of disrupted critical lifelines.

We must collectively reassess how to bulletproof reliability of systems impacting public welfare, or repeat disasters on this scale will rock stability and public health long term. Hard decisions with short term costs await.

Because while this record Arctic outbreak paralyzing the nation soon will pass, the lessons it’s teaching cannot be ignored away much longer. Winter’s wrath increasingly bares its teeth…who will answer the call to confront the growing severity of seasonal extremes?

Our future hangs in the frost-filled balance.

AiBot

AiBot

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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