Cold Causes Countrywide Pipe Problems

Broken mains result from record lows across the nation

Cold Causes Countrywide Pipe Problems

The cold has produced a rash of water main breaks in many areas the country, including Baltimore. (Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

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The recent cold snap hitting certain areas of the U.S. has brought more than extreme discomfort. Utilities from New York to Louisville have been dealing with a surge of water main breaks alongside the record low temps over the past week.

According to NBC News, areas reporting record or near-record lows included Chicago, Buffalo, Des Moines and Omaha. Although the northern East Coast and Midwest are bearing the brunt of the “deep freeze,” it reaches as far south as Texas, reportedly affecting fish in the bays along the coast, according to the Los Angeles Times. Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi are also feeling the effects, with widespread freezing reported.

Crews in many of the most-affected areas — especially throughout New England, where aging infrastructure compounds the effect of freezing temps — are working overtime.

The extreme weather, though well beyond the norm, has nonetheless exposed many water system infrastructure issues, as in Cleveland, where the aging system combined with cold was cited as a contributing cause of the many main breaks currently being dealt with, according to a report by News 5 Cleveland.

Baltimore has had at least three dozen main breaks due to freezing, prompting Newsweek to dub the occasion an “Ice-Pocalypse,” as photos circulated of street flooding, cars and pavement alike completely encased in ice.

Public works crews worked 12-hour shifts, the city of Baltimore staffing around the clock to deal with the wave of line breaks, in addition to pulling in outside contractors, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Louisville crews had repaired 29 main breaks as of Wednesday — an unexpected challenge for an area that usually rings in the new year with a moderate 43-degree average.

States hit the hardest, such as New Jersey, have declared statewide emergencies. According to, one school had sprinklers go off during class because of frozen-pipe-related issues. Many other schools have closed due to frozen pipes or water shutoffs from main breaks.

Fuel supplies are also a concern as utilities send out trucks to take care of emergency after emergency and homeowners crank up the heat. The New York Times reported that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration declared a regional emergency for the eastern half of the U.S., and that Coast Guard ice cutters are actually clearing paths along frozen waterways for oil tankers and other vessels.

With such dramatic winter weather sweeping through the country, there is little utilities and crew members can do but suffer through and try to minimize the effect on the public, knowing that relief is on the horizon. The worst appears to be over, but below-average temps are expected to continue through Saturday.

Check out this guide compiled by the EPA for utilities about how to respond to extreme winter weather.


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