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Brace for cold, folks

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The weather outside might be more frightful Tuesday than any other Jan. 7 in state history, but people around the Kanawha Valley can take many precautions to prepare themselves and their homes for inclement weather.

According to Liz Sommerville, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Charleston, the predicted low temperature Monday night and Tuesday morning could reach minus 4 degrees, the lowest temperature the area has seen in more than a decade.

"This is pretty rare," Sommerville said. "We usually don't see temperatures below zero."

Sommerville said that if the NWS predictions prove true, Tuesday could be the coldest Jan. 7 the area has seen since the agency began recording temperatures more than 150 years ago.

The most common problems associated with such low temperatures include car problems and frozen water pipes, which can prove hazardous for people without packaged water on hand.

"People will want to protect outdoor pipes as much as possible, and drain them if they can," she said. "If you have a sink or anything up against a cold exterior wall, you may want to open up your cabinets so that the heated air from your home can get in next to the pipes in the wall."

Laura Jordan, external affairs manager at West Virginia American Water, said the company saw an increase in water main breaks Friday and normally anticipates increased issues with lines breaking in the winter months.

"We always anticipate an increase in water main breaks, and we make sure we have the resources in place to address them. We get calls all the time about water main breaks, but we prioritize them by certain factors," she said. "If there is a main break that is causing customers to be out of water, or if it's causing any type of property damage or creating a safety hazard, those are high priority."

Jordan said the company will repair main line breaks and other issues outside a property, but personal pipes that break are the responsibility of the homeowner, which is why it is necessary to take certain precautions during the winter months to avoid frozen pipes, she said.

"If someone feels like they may be at risk for their pipes freezing, or they don't think certain sections of their house are very well-insulated, the best thing to do is buy a foam pipe wrap that insulates your pipes -- especially ones in the exterior walls of a home," Jordan said.

"For people who don't have that opportunity, you can leave your water running -- a very small drip, the size of pencil lead -- to keep water constantly moving. We tell people that, typically, the cost of running that water for an extra couple of days is much less than the cost they would incur if it were to freeze and then burst."

Tom Orcutt Sr., owner of Mullen Plumbing, Heating and Cooling in South Charleston, said the number of calls he receives about broken and frozen pipes varies from year to year, but he already had received several calls Friday, when temperatures dropped to the single digits.

"I was surprised -- it usually takes two or three days of cold weather for pipes to freeze up completely," he said.

Mobile homes are more susceptible to freezing than houses, Orcutt said, although the type and amount of insulation in a house factors into how quickly the pipes freeze.

"Trailers are going to freeze before houses, because the underpinning on them means the air is coming straight up from the ground more easily than it would a house," he said. "We have new houses and old houses freeze up -- it just depends on the type of insulation and if the pipes are insulated well."

Debbie Stanley, an agent with White Insurance and Associates Inc. in Charleston, said she has been working at the firm for 13 years and has never noticed a marked increase in claims for frozen and broken pipes -- a trend she attributes to homeowners taking the necessary precautions to protect their homes.

Stanley's firm, which provides Erie insurance, will cover the damage caused by water resulting from broken pipes but does not cover the damage to the pipes themselves.

"A lot of people take precautions by wrapping their pipes with insulation or using electrical tape," she said. "Usually, the exposed pipes, those under mobile homes without underpinning and outside spigots, are the most common problems."

For Sommerville, general safety concerns during the winter months also include making sure space heaters are never left unattended and are kept in a well-ventilated area, and that generators are kept outside, to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning -- things that seem like common sense but can cause problems for those who are unaware, she said.

"People want to be mindful and ensure they have some nonperishable food supplies and water, in case they lose power," Sommerville said. "It's predicted to snow Sunday night into Monday, so having extra supplies may not be a bad idea for everyone."

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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