2014 is off to a record-breaking cold start

Eric McCarthy
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ALBERTON – The new year didn’t just start out cold; it started out record-breaking cold.

Jeff Campbell (foreground) and Cory Delaney work to start a vehcile on a chilly January morning. Temperatures were in the -25 C to -30 C range. 

Linda Libby, an Environment Canada meteorologist said Summerside’s low of -25.3 on New Year’s Day, broke a low of -21.7 for Jan. 1, set at CFB Summerside in 1956.

And it got even colder on the second day of the year. Libby said Thursday’s frigid -26.5 broke a record low of -23.0 which had stood in Summerside since 1999.

Once the wind chill gets factored in, Libby said the temperature felt like -34.6 in Hampton and -32.5 in Maple Plains. The only recording station where the wind chill factor was warmer than -30 at 1 p.m. Thursday was East Point where it factored in at -25.5. The temperature reading there was -16.

At those temperatures, plumbing often becomes a concern. Indeed, plumber Spencer Myers said the calls started at 5 a.m. Thursday with residents reporting frozen pipes. The out-migration of workers to Western Canada created some of the problems, he said, explaining that some property owners didn’t complete their winter weather preparations before heading West.

By noon, the Mill River East businessman had crews working on water lines in four different homes. If the wind continues to push cold air through cracks and poorly insulated walls, Myers said there will likely be more calls before the weather improves.

The work at thawing pipes is not the most comfortable, Myers admits.

“A lot of the time, we’re underneath trailers.”

Randy Barbour and Ralph Gavin at Barbour’s Esso in Alberton acknowledge their full-service gas pumps tend to get more activity than normal during foul weather and on frigid days like Thursday.

Gavin tends the pumps bare-handed. Gloves have to come off anyway, he said, in order to open the fuel cover. So he starts the pump and promptly plunges his hands into his pockets until the pump approaches the desired amount.

Thursday, said Barbour, was also the type of day when more motorists than normal were wanting their tire pressure checked. He explained that is largely due to the drastic drop in temperature playing tricks with vehicles’ air pressure sensors.

Over at the Town of Alberton’s Maintenance department workers were doing maintenance on equipment before heading out to clean sidewalks.

Maintenance assistant Alfred Culleton said it is warm inside the cab of the sidewalk machine, but there is no protection from the elements if a shear pin breaks or the chute gets clogged. That work, he said, has to be carried out on-the-spot.

“And sometimes it can take 20 minutes to a half-hour if that gets clogged,” Culleton said.

Dressing for the conditions is essential, he acknowledged.

Other maintenance work, such as replacing manhole covers or clearing blockages in sewer lines has to be carried out when problems arise, regardless of weather, he admitted.

John Hastings, acting director of Municipal Works for the City of Summerside, said some common sense has to be applied in extreme weather, such as workers spelling each other off and taking periodic breaks from the cold.

While some routine work can be rescheduled for warmer days, calls of electrical outages or similar problems have to be responded to immediately, regardless of the weather.

“They do dress adequately for the weather,” Hastings said of the Municipal Works Department’s 51 workers.

Thursday’s cold led to some blown transformers due to increased electrical consumption and those problems were addressed quickly.

There have been no water main breaks to contend with during the cold snap, said Hastings, admitting the snow cover is providing some protection in that regard.

There is a break in the extreme cold on the way, Libby reported. Environment Canada is predicting the temperature will rise to plus five on Monday and maybe as high as seven above on Tuesday before dropping again.

Organizations: Environment Canada, Esso, Municipal Works Department

Geographic location: Summerside, Hampton, Maple Plains Alberton East Point Western Canada Mill River East

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