Extreme cold may be on the way out, but affects still linger
While the extended forecast appears to show Rhinelander finally rising out of the unseasonably cold weather, the sting of the low temperatures is not subsiding yet.
The aftermath of the cold weather maybe just as painful for some in the area.
City of Rhinelander
Residents in the city of Rhinelander are still dealing with frozen pipes with some homes going without water for four to five days.
“We still have 20 to 30 homes without water due to frozen pipes,” Director of Public Works Tim Kingman said. “These are the more difficult ones, the return events. Some we have to go back two or three times.”
Kingman said the freezing pipes will go away once the weather begins to warm and the frost begins to leave the ground.
“It is really up to Mother Nature,” Kingman said. “But we foresee this being an issue for the next couple of weeks.”
The city is asking all residents to continue to run their water and the city will credit the difference.
“We are going to charge residents what their average bill this time of year typically is,” Kingman said.
Still that cost has to be taken up somewhere.
“During a normal year, we spend about $30,000 to $50,000 to have some people run their water so the pipes don’t freeze,” Kingman said. “We surpassed that amount in the first month of this year.”
The city has not calculated the amount it will cost, but City Administrator Blaine Oborn said it will have an impact on the budget.
“We are still in emergency mode right now and we haven’t really sat down to look at the numbers,” Oborn said. “But it will affect the budget. But safety is our main concern. Sometimes there are other things to consider other than the budget.”
With the pattern of cold, then snowy weather, Oborn said overtime costs have been high.
“It seems like we have been getting hit on the weekends, so that is time that guys have to come in,” Oborn said.
While the temperatures for the upcoming week appear to be easing, it may not mean the end of the issues for the water department.
Kingman said the greatest chance of water main breaks is when the temperature shifts and starts to warm.
“We don’t like to talk about water main breaks, we are kind of superstitious that way,” Kingman said. “But it has been well documented that water mains tend to break as the weather starts to change.”
Kingman said the reason behind that is thermodymanics.
“As the frost leaves the ground and it is like a burst of cold energy that freezes the pipe and causes it to break,” he said.
But a water main break is more of a nuisance problem compared to the frozen pipes residents are currently battling.
“A broken water main could affect a block or a street for four to five hours,” Kingman said. “What we are facing with the frozen pipes is people with out water for four or five days.”
For now, the city is telling citizens to keep running their water until further notice. How much water to run depends on the situation.
“In other years, we told people to run their water about the width of a pencil lead,” Kingman said. “This year, we are taking that suggestion off the table. We want people to run the water as much as they need to keep their pipes from freezing.”
Rhinelander School District
The cold weather also forced the cancellation of several school days as temperatures were too dangerous to have students sitting and waiting for the bus to arrive or to walk to school.
Because of those missed days, the school year will extend further into the summer months with school now ending June 11.
“The safety of our students is my primary concern when making decisions about school closings and delays,” Rhinelander Superintendent Kelli Jacobi said.
Jacobi said there is currently a bill in Madison that may provide some relief for schools by removing the 180 day requirement and allowing schools to make up that time by adding a few minutes to their days.
“We definitely support the legislative change for eliminating number of day required and move to number of minutes/hours,” Jacobi said.
Propane this week came off of its all-time highs but it still well over its cost due to several factors. A wet crop, the cold weather demand has created a shortage in all states, but Wisconsin and the Rhinelander area are getting hit especially hard due to the cold weather.
Cost per gallon of propane was $3.68 the week starting Feb. 10. Better than the high of $4.49 customers were paying two weeks earlier but still well above the amount of $1.97 per gallon from a year ago.
“We are currently experiencing higher than normal call volumes and rationing deliveries to customers,” Simon Bowman, of Amerigas Inc. which operates a propane service in Rhinelander, said.
Bowman said the issues facing those that use propane are nationwide but the company is doing all it can to help customers.
“Our top priority is to make sure we have adequate supply to meet the needs of our customers,” Bowman said.
Bowman suggested customers who call in to have propane tanks refilled not do so unless the tank is down to 35 percent capacity.
Bowman also said now is a good time to check your home for areas that could be experiencing heat loss and caulking windows and unused doors.
While propane costs have skyrocketed, natural gas supplies have stayed consistent and have seen a moderate increase.
That does not mean that customers’ bills have not gone higher however,
“Last year at the this time, we were 20 percent warmer than normal,” WPS Community Relations Leader Leah Van Zile said. “This year has been colder than normal so we are seeing temperatures 43 percent colder than normal.”
That has meant higher bills for customers an average of $30 to $80 per bill. The reason for the modest increase is a good supply of natural gas and WPS planning ahead.
“Our natural gas supply has been very good,” Van Zile said. “The system has had gas readily available. WPS also stores gas that we purchase during the summer so we mix it in to keep prices lower.”
Van Zile said WPS is projecting that bills will continue remain about the same if the weather continues to be colder than last year,
“We put on our bills the percentage change in temperature from a year ago,” Van Zile said. “It is pretty much the same increase you see on your bill is the percentage change.”
As natural gas prices remain relatively steady, Van Zile said that could mean more work for WPS crews in the summer and an expansion of the WPS natural gas system.
“We have seen a substantial increase in inqueries [from those who do not currently have natural gas] to get natural gas at their residence,” she said. “We look at all of those requests and review them. And we do have some projects that we were looking at.”
Van Zile said anyone interested in finding out more about natural gas can call WPS at 800-450-7260.