Weather

Record cold slams Okla., Kan.

Thursday was one for the record books in Oklahoma and much of Kansas.

No day has been colder in recorded history in Oklahoma, and Wichita set a record low for Feb. 10.

In fact, Wichita hit record levels twice in seven hours: minus 9 just before midnight tied the record for Feb. 9, and minus 17 at 6:21 a.m. obliterated the previous record of minus 5 set Feb. 10, 1980.

Coffeyville hit minus 22 overnight, and 24 miles to the south on U.S. 169, Nowata, Okla., fell to minus 31. Once it's certified, it will break the state record of minus 27 set in Vinita in 1905 and tied in Watts in 1930.

The minus 22 in Coffeyville didn't approach the state's record low. That would be the minus 40 recorded in Lebanon on Feb. 13, 1905.

"It was a perfect set-up" for really low temperatures, said Brad Ketcham, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita. "You had heavy snow on the ground, clear skies, and then that high settled right over us."

The dome of high pressure quieted winds that would have helped stabilize temperatures, he said.

"Once those winds went calm, it just bottomed out," Ketcham said.

The white of the snow reflects heat back into the atmosphere, he said, and clear skies meant there was no layer of clouds to act as a blanket that could keep the warmth from escaping.

Temperatures plunged just before dawn when some light winds went still, Ketcham said. The temperature was minus 9 when he reported to work at 6 a.m.

Just 20 minutes later, he said, it had fallen another 8 degrees.

"It's just one of those crazy things," he said.

Not surprisingly, the record cold meant plumbers were busy with frozen pipes and wreckers were busy with dead batteries.

"The cold has been worse than it has been in years," said Chris Goodman, general manager for the Butler Group, which has plumbing operations in Wichita, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston.

Sprinkler mains have begun freezing in Oklahoma City and Wichita.

"That's something we hardly ever see," Goodman said.

Greg Lee, project manager for Superior Plumbing, said he's been getting calls from people who have lived in their homes for years and never had a water line freeze before.

"We cringe around here when the temperatures drop," Lee said. "And when the wind kicks up, that makes it even worse."

AAA was getting a steady stream of calls for help Thursday.

At any given time, more than two dozen people were waiting for a tow truck to arrive, said a AAA dispatcher. There were also a lot of calls from drivers who locked themselves out of their running cars.

There's good news for people wrangling with frozen pipes: temperatures will warm quickly, from the mid-30s today to perhaps 60 by the middle of next week.

Lee urged those with frozen pipes to be patient — as frustrating as that can be.

"It's best to wait and see what happens," he said. "Otherwise, you're tearing up Sheetrock, trying to figure out where it is" frozen.

"The ones that do freeze and burst are the worst," he said. "When they tell you, 'I can hear water but I can't tell where it's coming from,' that's when you drop everything and run."

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