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.