Valley handles bitter cold with almost zero problems
By Braden Ashe, Tom Yerace and Brian C. Rittmeyer
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 1:21 a.m.
The Alle-Kiski Valley emerged relatively unscathed Tuesday from an arctic blast that carried sub-zero temperatures through most of the day.
Early-morning temperatures in the Valley bottomed out at minus-14 degrees, according to the National Weather Service in Moon Township. The air progressively warmed throughout the day, reaching a high of 1 degree at 5:30 p.m.
The wind chill ranged from minus-35 to minus-15.
Emergency responders and utility providers had taken preventive measures this week in anticipation of weather-related emergencies on Tuesday.
FirstEnergy Corp. inspected its transmission system prior to the cold snap and ensured it had crews available to respond to any problems. Fire departments, municipal buildings, hospitals and churches served as warming centers Tuesday in case of power outages or water main breaks.
But only one minor power outage was reported, and warming centers from East Vandergrift to West Deer remained empty throughout the day.
A brief outage on Route 356 (North Pike Road) in Winfield left up to 20 people without power in the afternoon, according to FirstEnergy's website. Butler County 911 and state police in Butler were unaware of the outage and could not provide a time or cause. The notice was cleared from FirstEnergy's website by 4 p.m.
A Saxonburg volunteer firefighter said the closest warming center for Winfield residents was at Allegheny Valley Hospital in Harrison.
Like those in East Vandergrift, Verona, Lower Burrell and West Deer, no one on Tuesday used that warming station, said Linda Dalak, an AVH spokeswoman. The hospital did not treat anyone for frostbite, hypothermia or any other conditions as a result of the extreme temperatures.
Neither did ACMH Hospital in East Franklin, though three patients were treated for minor injuries from slipping on ice, according to Dennis Lager, nurse manager of the emergency department. The winter conditions also caused a car crash around 10 a.m. in which the occupants were treated for minor injuries, he said.
Water systems OK, homes' pipes worse off
The deep freeze has had some effect on the water system the New Kensington Municipal Authority operates in all or parts of seven communities. But Jim Matta, the authority's executive director said it wasn't as bad as it could have been in regard to waterline breaks.
He said there were two small breaks reported as of Tuesday afternoon.
Matta said the leaks weren't causing any damage.
“They just cut (water pressure) back a little bit, but nobody is doing without water,” Matta said. “And they'll wait until (today), when it is 25 degrees, and they can work on it.”
The effect of the cold was manifested more in calls to the authority office from customers with frozen pipes in their homes, he said.
“We're getting about six to eight an hour,” Matta said. “People are calling saying, ‘Do you have a water main break?' or ‘Is my water shut off for some reason?' ”
He continued: “Most of the time the frozen pipes are within the house, like in a cellar where there isn't enough heat to keep it above freezing.”
Matta said the authority advises customers who have frozen pipes to get heat to the area where the pipes are located.
“We tell them to try to find out where it is actually frozen — do not to use any kind of torch — and be very safe in getting heat to the area,” he said. “Sometimes, it is just opening up a door to let heat get in from one area or another, or open a cabinet door to let heat get in under a sink.”
Some people use blow dryers or heat tape to thaw pipes — or even use the heat generated by a light bulb, Matta said.
Another way people try to keep pipes from freezing is to let spigots drip.
“We don't tell people to do that because we don't like to waste a valuable resource,” Matta said. “People who do that will then call here and ask for an adjustment on their bill.”
Furnace repair biz heats up
Joe Ferguson, co-owner of Ferguson Heating and Air Conditioning in Allegheny Township, said he canceled all preventative maintenance work on Tuesday to focus on repairs.
“We're doing our best to get everybody back up and running and get the heat back on,” he said.
Ferguson said his call volume was five times what it normally would have been.
“I'll be glad when the temperature rises up to at least zero,” he said Tuesday. “Whatever is going to break down is going to break down today.
“Furnaces really get stressed in this weather. A lot of preventative maintenance issues come to light.”
Church offers blankets, winter clothes
Expressway Baptist Church in Buffalo Township is offering a warm clothing and blanket drive through the winter for people in need.
The church has collected about 100 articles of clothing and 60 blankets since it started last week. Coordinator Denise Lavenets said she was shocked that no one came in for donations this week as temperatures plummeted.
“Maybe people don't know about it,” she said. “Maybe it was just too cold for people to leave the house.”
Lavenets said she will make home deliveries for people who are too disabled to leave their homes.
“It's so important to stay warm and some people are really struggling out there,” she said. “It's so unbelievably cold out there.”
Trash collection delayed
The cold also affected some garbage collection on Tuesday. Waste Management and Republic Services canceled trash collection.
It will resume service Wednesday, working on a one-day delay through Saturday, when Friday customers will be serviced.
The weather service on Tuesday projected temperatures to range on Wednesday between 18 degrees and 21 degrees.
Wind chill is projected to be as low as minus-6 degrees, with a 20 percent chance of snow.
Braden Ashe, Tom Yerace and Brian Rittmeyer are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Ashe can be reached at 724-226-4673 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Yerace can be reached at 724-226-4675 or email@example.com and Rittmeyer can be reached at 724-226-4701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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