Bitter cold causes problems

January 7, 2014
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Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
Terry Moore, right, with Isiminger Towing in Washington uses a portable battery charger to jump start Dorothy Patterson’s car on Barnett Street in Washington Tuesday morning. Order a Print
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Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
Jeannie Graham of Washington bears the bitter cold with wind chills in the minus-20s as she walks to work Tuesday morning. Order a Print
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Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
Workers with Pennsylvania-American Water Company shut off a water main at the corner of Route 19 (Washington Road) and Braun Drive next to Wendy’s in Peters Township Tuesday afternoon after the line ruptured, flooding Route 19. Order a Print
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Photos byJim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
Traffic traveling north on Route 19 in Peters Township plows through the water and ice from a water main break Tuesday afternoon. At top right, Terry Moore with Isiminger Towing in Washington uses a portable battery charger to jump start Dorothy Patterson’s car on Barnett Street in Washington Tuesday morning. Workers with Pennsylvania-American Water Company shut off the water main at the corner of Route 19 and Braun Drive. Order a Print

Schools were closed and service crews were busy Tuesday as the temperature dipped to a record low.

By noon Tuesday, AAA responded to roughly 1,900 service calls across Western Pennsylvania. AAA spokeswoman Bevi Powell said the calls mostly pertained to dead batteries or flat tires.

“Whenever the temperature dips this low, we expect a lot of calls,” Powell said. “Our busiest times are in the morning and at rush hour, when people go to get into their vehicles and the battery doesn’t start.”

Powell said the call volume was double what would be received on a typical day. “But we were able to get to everybody and assist them with their needs,” she said.

Elsewhere, especially across the Midwest, cities and states shattered their previous record low temperatures for the day.

In Pittsburgh, the previously recorded low of minus-5 in 1884 was slashed Tuesday when the temperature dipped to minus-9, the National Weather Service said. The dangerous cold was a result of an unusal positioning of the polar vortex, a large pocket of cold air, AccuWeather said. The pocket normally sits over the polar region during the winter season, but shifted, AccuWeather said.

The freezing temperatures caused area school districts to close. By Tuesday afternoon, Charleroi, Chartiers-Houston, Jefferson-Morgan, Peters Township, Southeastern Greene and Trinity school districts already issued a two-hour delay for today.

Although bitterly cold in Washington, Washington County Director of Public Safety Jeffrey Yates said few people took advantage of warming shelters scattered throughout the area. In total, Yates said four people visited the warming stations.

“We didn’t have any power outages or significant utility issues in the area,” he said. “So, I wasn’t surprised.”

The warming centers will remain open through this afternoon, when temperatures are expected to rise.

In Greene County, the emergency shelter at Carmichaels Activity Center was open Monday night and until 4 p.m. Tuesday, said Ruth Enci, who coordinates the shelter at the center. No one came to the site Monday night, she said.

The center was closed at 4 p.m. Tuesday and a note was placed on the door asking anyone in need of warmth or shelter to call 911. Enci said if she received a call from 911, she would reopen the center.

No one could be reached Tuesday afternoon at the shelter set up at New Freeport Fire Hall.

Bob Dobbins, an elder at the Clarksville Christian Church, opened the doors of the church Monday at noon and kept them open as a warming shelter.

“We’re going to stay here tonight and then close up some time in the morning. It is supposed to go up into the 20s (today),” Dobbins said.

Dobbins said a family called to inquire about staying at the church because of a loss of heat in their residence, but they never showed up, according to Dobbins. The church did not have any other requests for shelter as of Tuesday afternoon.

“We fed eight guys a warm meal this morning. They were taking a mining class and had brought sandwiches. I invited them in to have something to eat,” he said. “We have blankets, food, and 10 cots we borrowed from the Red Cross through the county. We are here if someone needs us.”

Canonsburg and Monongahela Valley hospitals reported no weather-related visits to their emergency departments.

“It was quiet despite the temperatures,” Yates said. “People used their heads and were careful.”

The cold weather did cause problems for some in Peters Township. Around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, a water main break covered Route 19 (Washington Road) near Braun Drive with thick ice and caused some minor traffic tie-ups. Peters Township public works employees scraped ice from the road and crews from Pennsylvania American Water Co. worked until late evening to repair the break in the six-inch, 60-year-old line, said Josephine Posti, external affairs specialist with the water company. About 50 commercial and residential customers were affected.

Posti said there were no spikes in water main breaks during some of the coldest weather in 20 years. However, only emergencies were being addressed Tuesday by repair crews. Regularly scheduled service and other nonemergency services, such as meter reading, were halted.

It is difficult to predict what emergencies may crop up once the temperatures begin to rise and the ground heats up. That, she said, can put a strain on underground water pipes.

Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-30s the rest of the week, and into the 40s this weekend, the National Weather Service said.

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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