Temperature extremes create creek rising

Barbara Lawlor

Six inches. Second Street resident Suzanne Thomas held her hands one above the other to indicate how much the creek flowing next to her house rose in a few minutes. Her back door opens onto the walking bridge that crosses the creek and allows access to her back yard, which is filled with natural, spiritual and mystical creations: all of them formed by visions and by insights into the unity of nature and humanity.
What the bridge, the backyard and Thomas did not imagine, was the seemingly magical rise of a slow-moving, ice-covered creek, usually not an issue in winter. Thomas called the Nederland Fire Protection District and tried to tell them about the creek rising and about watching its slow motion bloat that covered her bridge and found a way into her house.
Nederland Fire Protection District Administrator Jim Harrison admitted he had a somewhat difficult time trying to decipher what she was saying. He and Iain Powell-Smith dug into the creek near the bridge, cutting through the ice with chainsaws and axes. Other firefighters investigated the crawl space of the house, which is inches from the last inside step in the house.
The chainsaw sent up sprays of ice and water and rakes pulled the chunks out of the creek, creating an open rivulet and letting the running water under the creek find a way out. As the volunteers worked, the ice pile in the backyard grew to about three feet and it kept coming.
Nederland Police Officer Darragh O’Nuallain contacted a National Oceanic and Atmosphere friend who explained the anomaly that was taking place. It is an event that occurs during times of extreme cold and then extreme warm weather.
For about five nights in a row, Nederland temperatures dipped below zero. Water on top of the creek froze and as the ice expanded, oxygen filled the resulting spaces, pushing the ice upward. When temperatures rose into the 50s the next day the water thawed, began to flow again and jammed up against the ice dams that blocked the flow.
The firefighters pulled ice chunks from the creek overnight and then all day the next day. Thomas seemed more amazed than dismayed, saying she had never seen anything like it and for a moment, she thought the world was being invaded by some strange phenomenon of earth swell.
When the below-zero temperatures went away, the creek went back to a normal January flow and the backyard ice ridge began to diminish during the day. The crawl space was drained. The creek’s water continued to flow and life resumed to its normal cycle. Thomas and the firefighters will be able to tell the story about the time that the creek grew overnight.
In the past couple of weeks, many report broken pipes were reported because of the quick drops in temperatures and the resulting thawed flow of water through cracks. Boulder County offers advice about prevention and tips for repair.
Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes: Freezing weather may bring discomforts but frozen water pipes can be avoided with a little planning and a few simple steps. When frigid arctic air hits, water freezes, and as it freezes, it expands — causing pipes to burst and possible flooding to occur.
Pipes that freeze most frequently are those that are exposed to severe cold, such as outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines and water supply pipes in unheated interior areas such as basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages or kitchen cabinets. Pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation are also subject to freezing.
Determine where the water shut-off valve is in the house and how to use it in case pipes freeze and break.
Fire departments recommend that every member of a household know this information and similar to a fire drill, practice turning the valve off and on. To determine where a water shut-off valve is, locate the outside water line that leads to the residence. The water line usually flows directly from the water meter to a location inside the residence. Likely places for the water turn-off valve include internal pipes running against exterior walls or where water service enters a home through the foundation.
Before the onset of cold weather, prevent freezing of water supply lines:
Remove, drain and carefully store hoses used outdoors. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose taps to allow water to drain. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.
Check around the home for other areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas. Look in the basement, crawl space, attic, garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Both hot and cold water pipes in these areas should be insulated. A hot water supply line can freeze just as a cold water supply line can freeze. If water is not running through the pipe, and the water temperature becomes cold.
Consider installing specific products made to insulate water pipes like a “pipe sleeve” or installing UL-listed “heat tape,” “heat cable,” or similar materials on exposed water pipes. Many products are available at a building supplies retailer. Pipes should be carefully wrapped, with ends butted tightly and joints wrapped with tape. Follow manufacturer’s recommendations for installing and using these products. Newspaper can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes.
During cold weather, take preventive action:
Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. When the weather is very cold outside, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe, even at a trickle, helps prevent frozen pipes.
During extreme cold, keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night.
If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat set to a temperature no lower than 55º.
To Thaw Frozen Pipes
If your house or basement is flooding, turn off the water valve and call 911. If there is no flooding but you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, make sure your main water valve is turned on. If it is, suspect a frozen pipe. Locate the suspected frozen area of the water pipe. Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt more ice in the pipe.
Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove or other open flame device. Make sure a heating pad, hair dryer or other electrical devices do not come into contact with water. Apply heat until full water pressure is restored.
If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible or if you cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may also freeze.
Future Protection:
Consider relocating exposed pipes to provide increased protection from freezing. For example, if the home is being remodeled, a professional can relocate pipes. To maintain higher temperatures, add insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces.
It is always best to do preventative measures during the summer. Plumbers are happier and it is easier to find pipes and faucets and apply heat tape and insulation.