published Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Record Chattanooga area cold gives way to warming trend

4-DAY FORECAST

Expected highs and lows for Chattanooga this week

Day - High/Low

Today - 41 / 22

Thursday - 48 / 36

Friday - 54 / 43

Saturday - 60 / 44

Source: National Weather Service

REGIONAL WEATHER FACTS

• Temperatures Tuesday in the Midwest and the Eastern U.S. were colder than many parts of Antarctica.

• In Atlanta, the 6-degree temperature caused officials at Downtown Centennial Olympic Park to close the ice skating rink.

• The U.S. Forest Service recorded temperatures of minus 6 degrees at its remote weather station on Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest peak.

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  • photo
    Jean Hoffman, left, and Bonnie Roberts walk along Market Street on Tuesday during afternoon temperatures in the mid-teens in downtown Chattanooga.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
    enlarge photo

After more than 60 hours of below-freezing temperatures that bottomed out Tuesday at 5 degrees, today in Chattanooga is going to feel like a heat wave.

Lows were expected to reach 11 in the city overnight, lower in outlying areas. But as today wears on, the high is forecast to reach 41 degrees under mostly sunny skies.

That’s sweet relief from the bitter wind chills, busted water pipes and overloaded power grid brought on by this week’s blast of arctic cold. Tuesday’s low of 5 degrees set a record for the date, smashing the previous 9-degree record set in 1970.

And that wasn’t the only record that resulted from the deep freeze.

On Tuesday — the coldest day here since 1996 — EPB dished out more power in one hour than it ever has.

“At 9 a.m. the temperature was 7 degrees and EPB’s system set a record at 1,326 megawatts. That shattered the old record of 1,302 megawatts, which was set in August of 2007,” EPB spokesman John Pless said.

But the record consumption did not come without costs.

Thousands of residents all over Hamilton County went without electricity at various times of the day Monday. The freezing weather and massive power demand strained parts of EPB’s system and caused outages, Pless said.

“The largest number of customers without power was 1,800 [Monday] on Signal Mountain,” he said. “From that point on through Tuesday morning, we were averaging about 200 to 900 customers who were without power at any given moment.”

Most of those outages were measured in minutes, although some of the more severe issues were not resolved for hours, he said.

Despite the repeated power failures, Pless said EPB’s smart grid helped keep the outages from spreading.

“The thing that really saved this community a lot was having the smart grid. It was able to isolate those outages in specific areas,” he said.

On Tuesday morning, Pless said the Tennessee Valley Authority instructed EPB to ask residents to conserve power to avoid taxing the system, but that request was lifted hours later.

By noon Tuesday, Pless said, EPB was averaging fewer than 200 outages per hour.

The Tennessee Valley’s cold weather was caused by a shift in the jet stream — what weather gurus call a polar vortex, said Paul Barys, meteorologist for WRCB in Chattanooga.

“The jet stream dropped down from the arctic in Siberia down deep into the United States,” Barys said. “We were just getting Siberia’s air for a few days. It happens from time to time.”

Chattanooga’s all-time low of minus 10 degrees remained intact.

But starting at 7 a.m. Monday, the city experienced 29 straight hours of temperatures below 20 degrees. Lows during the deep freeze hit bottom at 5 degrees at 8 a.m. Tuesday. The temperature finally got back to 20 degrees at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

No serious health problems were reported as a result of the cold Monday and Tuesday.

CLOSINGS

Delays and closings abound in the Chattanooga area on Wednesday as a cold wave continues across the region.

The Hamilton County Department of Education reports there will be no delayed schedule for Wednesday, Jan. 8. All scheduled employees will report at their regular time for an in-service day.

Note: School for students does not start until Thursday.

See a listing of schools and business delays and closings from our news partner wrcbtv.

But some schools along with various government and private offices decided to close, residents made a rash of calls for help with frozen pipes and vehicles, and the city had to step in to assure that the homeless had a warm place to sleep at the height of the cold.

In Cleveland, Tenn., Cleveland Utilities’ electric division stayed busy.

“Jan. 7 has been an eventful day,” said Bart Borden, vice president of the division, citing three short-lived interruptions in power between 3 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.

Nearly 4,000 residential customers lost power around 3 a.m. and 2,000 more customers lost power around 7:30 a.m. due to substation load imbalances, he said.

About 690 customers also lost power around 8:47 a.m. when a truck broke a pole on Dellwood Lane, Borden said. However, he said he did not believe this incident was weather-related.

Power was restored to those customers in as little as 14 minutes and as long as 36 minutes, Borden said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Cleveland Utilities had received 52 calls about burst pipes, said Craig Mullinax, vice president of the utility’s water division.

In Chattanooga, Fire Department spokesman Bruce Garner said firefighters were working around the clock answering calls of burst pipes at apartment complexes and businesses throughout the city, including one at Total Health Chiropractic at 529 N. Market St. Garner said a frozen water line in the attic of the building burst and caused a partial ceiling collapse.

For the most part, there’s not much the fire department can do for frozen plumbing, outside of helping with some initial clean-up. Firefighters have to be ready to answer emergency calls. But when sprinkler systems are involved it becomes a fire department issue.

  • photo
    Abby Gray walks across ice at the edge of the partially frozen Dallas Bay on Tuesday at Chester Frost Park in Hixson. Single-digit temperatures Monday night and early Tuesday morning helped to freeze part of the bay.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
    enlarge photo

“If it’s a sprinkler system pipe that burst, that means that system is no longer functional. … That particular apartment building is put on fire watch. That means the property manager has to monitor that affected building until the system is repaired,” Garner said.

In preparation for the winter chill, the Hamilton County Highway Department spent 1,100 man hours distributing 100 tons of salt on roads north of the river, primarily in mountainous areas, said spokesman Michael Dunne.

AAA Auto Club spokesman Don Lindsey said the club took calls from a flood of beleaguered motorists. The top three problems were dead car batteries, locked-out drivers and overheated engines.

“It’s a rough situation,” Lindsey said. “It’s in much bigger volume than what we usually see. These numbers are way beyond normal.”

Correspondent Paul Leach and staff writer David Cobb contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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