By Megan Hopps
SUN PRESS Newspapers
This harsh winter has led to more than just cancelled school days.
Subzero temps have caused a slew of challenges for several cities in the metro. Everything from frozen water and sewer pipes to plowing, sweeping and road maintenance.
According to the Nation Weather Service, the average temperature this winter has been just 9.7 degrees. Currently, this winter is the ninth coldest meteorological winter on record. Most people haven’t experienced a winter like this since 1978-79. Though all should be thankful they weren’t around in 1875 when the average was a bone-chilling 3.7 degrees.
So far this winter, Minnesotans living in the Twin Cities area have braved 50 days of below zero temps. And it’s not over yet.
On Sunday, March 2 the Twin Cities area set a new record cold high temperature of a measly 3 degrees.
With over seven weeks of sub zero temps, the frost depth has become a problem for many homeowners in the area. The frost line this year is as deep as it’s been in a very long time.
Frozen pipes are found inside the homes, usually with poor insulation. The water freezes and expands causing the pipe to burst.
Usually, this happens in the street, where the service line that goes to the homes connects with the large water main out in the street. When streets are plowed, it removes the layer of insulating snow from the ground. That exposes the service lines out in the street to the frost line and as soon as it reaches the depths of those service lines, they freeze up and water no longer runs through them and on into the home.
Champlin Utility Superintendent Mike Bramwell said, “We don’t normally receive this many calls. This is a very unique winter with the constant sub zero temps.”
Typically, each city has different regulations governing how deep water pipes are buried. But there are also various regulations on a larger scale within the county and state. According to Bramwell, most water pipes in Champlin are buried 72 inches below ground.
“We’ve had around 25 calls within the city,” said Champlin’s City Administrator Bret Heitkamp. “That’s more than we’ve ever had. It’s highly unusual.”
The city has issued a public service announcement warning residents of the effects of the deep frost conditions.
The City of Champlin’s report states, “We have received reports of water services freezing throughout the city. If your water temperature is less than 40 degrees fahrenheit after you have run your tap for two minutes, let your water run continually.”
The stream should be about the width of a pencil.
“We’ve seen a few developments that have been more vulnerable than others and told those residents to run their water,” Bramwell said. “Just be aware of the conditions.”
The city frequently monitors MnDot’s frost locations and when the frost depth gets to be a threat, that’s when homeowners need to be warned.
“We’ve found a couple homes where residents come home from vacation and discover their pipes have frozen,” Bramwell said.
Other surrounding cities in the north west metro have even experienced frozen service lines this winter.
“Champlin hasn’t had any calls like that,” explained Bramwell. Luckily, neither Champlin or Dayton has experienced issues like this and hopefully this will be less of a concern as the state begins to thaw.
Both Champlin and Dayton are having to deal with large amounts of fallen snow this winter. On average, the Twin Cities area only sees just above 45 inches of snow. This winter Minnesotans in the northwest metro have “welcomed” nearly 60 inches as of March 3. The most snow residents in the area have seen was the winter of 1983-84 where over 98 inches blanketed the ground.
“The biggest concern is getting the ice off the roads,” said Dayton’s Interim City Administrator Bob Derus. “The snow is hard on the equipment and the expense to clear the roads this year is more than normal. But we have enough sand and salt. I’m just crossing my fingers March isn’t too harsh.”
He’s not alone.
“It’s really hard on the equipment when it has to operate in these temperatures,” said Administrator Heitkamp. “We’re over on our fuel budget, the crews are over on their hours. It’s tough because the same guys that clear the roads are the same ones clearing the trails and working on the rinks and right now the roads are the biggest priority. We have to help get people safely to and from work.”
The city does take some precautionary steps to plan for mother nature’s wrath. The City of Champlin pre-salts the roads when a storm is expected. The sand prevents the snow from adhering to the roads once it’s been driven over. Furthermore, the city does budget for the rare occasion that the weather is as unrelenting as it has been. “We’ve had to bring in trucks on two separate occasions to push the banks back and clear the intersections,” said Heitkamp. “Usually by this time of year we’ve had a few days above 30 to melt some of it, but unfortunately that just hasn’t happened.”
And where will it all go once it melts? Cities have already begun to plan and budget for where all this slop and slush will go when this polar vortex ever ceases.
“We do have an area in the city that has experienced flooding in the past,” said Derus. “It’s a little early to tell, but it is a concern, especially if you get a series of warm days and it all happens at once.”
And Heitkamp echoes his concerns.
“The catch basins are under the snow banks,” he said. “So the runoff can’t get to them. This is concerning because this will create ponding in the street. We may have to go to each of the basins one by one and clear the snow.”
Both Champlin and Dayton are actively planning, budgeting and preparing for the months ahead. Only time will tell how this winter will affect the spring.
If residents haven’t been praying for this winter to end, administrative staff in the north west metro sure has been. One can only hope March is kinder than January and February were. In like a lion out like a lamb… hopefully.
Contact Megan Hopps at [email protected]