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Front Page » January 17, 2013 » Carbon County News » Area in deep freeze as temps plunge below zero
Published 589 days ago

Area in deep freeze as temps plunge below zero


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

A driver passing through Carbon County on Monday morning reported that his truck thermometer read -39 degrees F on Monday morning.

While vehicle thermometers are not the most accurate measure of temperature, everyone knows that whether it is -39 F or not, it has been very cold since Christmas. And the latest wave of cold since the storm passed through last week is even colder

No one has missed that.

From vehicles with dead batteries to diesel engines that won't start, all across the state and the local area people are having trouble. After last year's very mild winter, many were not prepared for this winter's onslaught.

"We have seen an uptick in all kinds of problems with vehicles," said Joe Piccolo, owner of Supreme Muffler in Price. "We have frozen radiators, oil that won't move, drive lines breaking, dead batteries and a lot more. When it gets this cold, below zero with it never getting above freezing, it affects all the moving parts."

While temperatures in the area vary depending on where one is, only official temperatures are placed on the record. And where that site is can make a difference. While there are a number of weather stations in the area, the Carbon County Airport is the official station. It is located at a slightly higher altitude than much of the surrounding area, so that could result in a difference in temperatures reported from the area in general.

As for a record cold temperature officially, the area has approached that during this cold spell, but has not broken it yet according to records that go back to 1968. The lowest temperature recorded for January since that time was in 1971 when the official low was -15 F.

That was the coldest temperature in any month since then, even though it can get very cold in December and February. February's record is -10 F in 1985 and December's is -14 in 1990.

This week's low temperatures also have Questar Gas customers across the state reaching for their thermostats. As a result, the company reports record natural gas deliveries for the 24-hour period ending at 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning. More than 1.2 million decatherms (Dth) of gas flowed through Questar Gas's distribution system. The previous record was set in 2011 when more than 1.1 million Dth were delivered in a 24-hour period.

Last year, natural gas usage never exceeded 1 million Dth in a 24-hour period; this year, there have been nine days where deliveries exceeded more than 1 million Dth. Last year's weather, however, was not typical of January, with it being much more mild across the Intermountain area.

"Keeping our customers warm is our first priority," said Craig Wagstaff, Questar Gas executive vice president and COO. "Our customers rely on us most right now because natural gas is their primary fuel for heat. Delivering that fuel requires careful management of natural gas pressures through more than 26,000 miles of buried pipelines to more than 930,000 homes and businesses.

Everyone in Utah who has natural gas heat should also be bracing for higher bills when they come in at the end of the month.

"Higher gas usage means higher bills and we realize this can be particularly tough for customers on limited incomes," said Wagstaff. "There are programs that can help. Federal assistance is available through the Home Energy Assistance Target (HEAT) program. Questar Gas employees and customers also donate to the REACH program, which is administered by the American Red Cross. Customers with limited income can call 211 for information about these and other assistance programs in Utah. Customers can also find energy-saving tips to help them reduce their gas usage and their bill at ThermWise.com."

When it comes to power usage, the winter, despite the short days and long heater fan run times, is not as big as it is in the summer when air conditioning units are running.

"Our peak time for power usage is in the summer," said the Maria O'Mara, the manager or external communications for Rocky Mountain Power on Wednesday morning. "We probably have certain areas where people have just electric heat that are up in usage, but overall this cold weather is not a time when we set records."

The cold weather is also affecting the populations besides human beings. Pets can suffer greatly during cold weather if not taken care of. Some pets have no places for them to get out of the cold and lack fresh drinkable water. Some animals adapt to the cold very well, while others do not. Owners should be sure pets are watched over and have what they need during a cold spell.

Domestic animals are not the only ones faced with deadly consequences of very cold temperatures. Officials with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources are concerned about cold temperatures and how those temperatures might affect deer if the weather doesn't warm up soon. Since the start of December, DWR biologists have been monitoring deer herds across Utah. There are five factors biologists monitor to determine how well the deer are doing. They include the condition of the deer as they entered the winter, the amount of food that's available to the deer on winter ranges, how deep the snow is, how cold the temperature have been and the amount of body fat they find on deer that have been killed along roads.

Anis Aoude, big game coordinator for the DWR, says one of the five factors-the temperature-has reached a critical point in some areas in Utah. However, despite the cold temperatures, Aoude says Utah's deer herds are doing well.

"Fortunately deer went into the winter with an average layer of fat on them," he said. "And the snow depth in most of the state is not covering the vegetation. Slopes that face south are nearly bare in some areas, so the deer can still find food."

If conditions deteriorate, biologists will consider feeding deer specially designed pellets. The pellets are formulated to fit the complex digestive system mule deer have. The pellets are also designed to give deer extra energy. Extra energy is something deer often need when the temperature is cold and the snow is deep. Aoude says DWR biologists will continue to monitor the deer herds closely.

"If feeding becomes necessary," he says, "we'll make sure it's done at the right time and with the right type of food."

The public needs to know that there are things they can do to help the situation.

Anytime a deer is disturbed, it has to burn some of its precious fat reserves to try to escape the threat.

With that in mind, not disturbing deer is one of the best things you can do to help deer in the winter. People who are in the back country with their dogs should keep them on a leash. When encountering deer while hiking, skiing or snowmobiling, give the animals plenty of space, and remain as quiet as you can. Slow down while driving through areas where deer live. It's especially important to drive slowly at dawn and dusk, when deer are most active. Also pay attention to wildlife crossing signs and watch for movement along the side of the road. If one deer is spotted, there's a good chance other deer are nearby. Go to www.watchfordeerutah.com-provides more information about deer behavior and how to drive safely in deer country.

Jeff Richens, general manager of the Price River Water Improvement District, said his office has been getting about two or three calls a day from customers with frozen pipes. There are two simple things people can do to mitigate the situation, he said.

First, if sinks are along outside walls, it means the pipes leading to them are along the coldest walls in the house. Opening cabinet doors around those pipes will let warm air circulate. Another technique is to open an interior faucet slightly. The stream doesn't have to be much - just the thickness of a pencil lead, the point where the water comes out in a steady trickle instead of drops.

(Some information for this article came from the National Weather Service as well as press releases from Questar and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

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