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W.Va. shivers as mercury takes plunge

by James Fisher

STAFF WRITER

Sales associates at Lowe's in Clarksburg were swamped Saturday after extremely cold temperatures Thursday and Friday night froze water pipes all across the region.

"These two aisles have been absolutely non-stop since eight o'clock this morning," said customer service representative Jason Trader. "We've had people in here pretty much constantly because of the frozen pipes."

Shelves of pipe warming blankets, insulation and other items were getting low around 4 p.m. Saturday, and Trader said the store was nearly out of space heaters.

"I normally work in the seasonal section, and we're just about out of heaters," he said. "We've sold out the small oil heaters, and there's about three kerosene heaters that will probably gone by later today."

Just a week ago, Lowe's was almost overstocked with kerosene heaters, Trader said, because everyone who had bought one in anticipation of major problems associated with New Year's Eve returned them.

"Now, with this cold weather, we can't keep them in stock," he said.

While the intensely cold temperatures -- as low as -17 in some areas Saturday morning at dawn -- should not be a shock to residents of North Central West Virginia, some people were lulled by the unseasonably warm temperatures earlier in the month and put off weatherproofing efforts that may have prevented frozen pipes.

"It just got away from me," said Jeff Miller, as he perused the aisles of Lowe's looking for some way to defrost his frozen pipes. "Usually I take care of this long before the first freeze, but it's been so warm, I just forgot. We got up this morning and there was no water. No shower and no coffee and I'm not a very happy person."

Insulation and warming elements designed to wrap around pipes are the two most common ways to thaw pipes, Trader said, unless the pipes are outside.

"You can try to get some heat to them somehow, but pretty much if they're outside, you just have to wait for it to warm up," he said.

Clarksburg Fire Department Capt. Rick Lafferty cautioned residents with frozen pipes to be careful about applying heat.

"You don't want to use any kind of fire, like a torch," he said. "That's the easiest way to start a house fire."

Lafferty also warned residents to turn off the water supply to prevent water damage in the event that water freezing in the pipes has caused cracks or splits.

Trader explained that when the pipes freeze, hard-to-see cracks can form or joint welds can pop, causing even more damage once the pipes thaw.

It may be several days before temperatures climb enough for the pipes to thaw naturally, according to the National Weather Service in Charleston.

While Saturday morning saw the lowest temperatures of the winter so far, no significant warming should occur this week, said NWS meteorologist Ken Batty. At dawn Saturday, Benedum Airport recorded a low of -6, while the Clarksburg Water Board recorded a low of -8. The lowest temperatures in the NWS network were Belington and the Elkins airport at -17.

Batty said temperatures should not climb out of the low 30s this week. However, he also said there probably won't be any more significant accumulation of snow.

"Winter has a pretty good grip on Appalachia right now," he said.

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