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Weekend snow could lead to Wichita’s lowest temps in three years

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014, at 6:23 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, at 1:48 p.m.

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Protect your pipes

•  Insulate outside water taps.

•  Make sure outdoor irrigation systems are drained and turned off.

•  If you have water pipes running through outside walls, such as in a kitchen, keep cabinet doors open to get as much warm air to the wall as possible.

•  Keep a trickle of water running through indoor faucets.

Source: City of Wichita

Protect your pets

The Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA offer these recommendations for caring for pets in the cold:

• Never leave a dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.

• Never let your dog off the leash on snow or ice. Especially during a snowstorm, dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost.

• It’s best to keep dogs and cats indoors. If for some reason a dog is outdoors much of the day, it should be protected in a dry, draft-free shelter that is large enough to allow it to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold in its body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. The house should be turned to face away from the wind, and the doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.

• Pets that spend a lot of time outdoors need more food in the winter, because keeping warm depletes energy. Routinely check your pet’s water dish to make sure the water is fresh and unfrozen. Use plastic food and water bowls rather than metal.

• Warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife, who may crawl up under the hood. Bang on your car’s hood to scare them away before starting your engine.

• Salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of a pet’s feet. Wipe all paws with a damp towel before your pet licks them and irritates its mouth.

• Antifreeze is a deadly poison, but it has a sweet taste that may attract animals and children. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze (and all household chemicals) out of reach. Coolants and antifreeze made with propylene glycol are less toxic.

• Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter. Consider getting a short-haired breed a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck with coverage from the base of the tail to the belly.

Sources: www.humanesociety.org, www.aspca.org

Keep an eye on this weekend’s snowfall. It holds the key to what could be the lowest temperatures to hit Wichita in three years.

Also keep an eye on your water pipes if temperatures dip below zero early next week, city officials say.

Lows could dip below zero beginning Monday, especially if the area sees significant snowfall Saturday night and early Sunday, the National Weather Service says.

The last time the mercury dipped below zero, according to NWS officials, was minus-17 on Feb. 10, 2011, a day had 6 inches of snow on the ground. In 2010, temperatures got very cold in January: minus-6 on Jan. 3, minus-9 on Jan. 9 and minus-17 on Jan. 10.

Subzero temperatures could create havoc for homeowners with above-ground water lines, said Alan King, the city’s public works director. But the city’s water mains, buried several feet underground in most cases, shouldn’t be threatened unless next week’s cold snap hangs on for a few days.

“Temperatures have to be below zero for a bit to pose any kind of problems to the water mains,” King said. “Right now, our greatest risks are water meters. They are our most exposed asset, but typically they’re deep enough in a pit and some are insulated. The lines – you have to get the frost layer down deep.”

That may well be where the frost layer is headed. The forecast high for Monday is 10 with lows around zero and wind chills around minus-15, courtesy of a cold air system expected to move through the area, said Vanessa Pearce, a meteorologist with the NWS.

That high is trending down, Pearce said.

“Yesterday, we were looking at a high of 14 for Monday and we lowered that to 12, so it’s certainly possible that it could keep dropping,” she said.

The temperatures almost certainly will drop below zero early next week if the area gets more snow. Pearce said current forecasts call for an inch or two of snow Saturday evening in a system similar to the New Year’s Day snow this week.

“Any time you get snow, and you get cold air moving over it, then yes, the temperature is going to drop,” Pearce said. “We’re forecasting a high of 22, though, on Sunday but that very well may change depending on the snowfall we get.”

Any below-zero temperatures bring with them the chance of above-ground pipes freezing, officials said. Homeowners need to take a variety of steps to secure their plumbing – from insulating outside water spouts to opening cabinet doors in kitchens with wall pipes exposed to the outside cold.

“Even if all you do is a trickle of water to keep it moving, do that,” King said. “Still water is going to freeze, expand and rupture pipes.”

King said the cold weather dangers to the city’s underground water system were mitigated a bit last summer by a milder, wetter irrigation season.

“Part of it is we continue to make progress on repairing our mains, but the biggest part is less stress on the system due to the lower demands during the irrigation season,” he said. “We had the good rains and we saw a reduction in demand. We saw a lot less stress on the system in the summer.”

City statistics bear that out. In the fourth quarter of 2012 – Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 – the city saw 218 main breaks, said Ben Nelson, strategic services director for the city public works department. This year, the number dropped by almost a third to 148.

“It’s been a quieter year,” Nelson said.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @bwilsoneagle.

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