By Keith Gushard and Mary Spicer
Subzero temperatures and wind chills that made things even colder caused some but not total havoc in the area overnight Monday and throughout the day Tuesday.
At Port Meadville Airport in Vernon Township, the temperature dipped down to minus 13 degrees between midnight and 4 a.m. Tuesday. That, combined with wind gusts of 26 miles per hour, put the wind chill down to minus 38 degrees just before 1 a.m. Tuesday.
There were no reports of people being treated for frostbite at either Meadville Medical Center or Titusville Area Hospital, according to officials at both facilities.
The cold weather caused an equipment malfunction at a National Fuel Gas pipeline substation, resulting in low natural gas pressure for customers in the Cambridge Springs and Saegertown areas from about 4 a.m. until noon Tuesday, according to Sandra James, National Fuel spokeswoman.
“No one lost service,” James said.
The low pressure situation was traced to a mechanical problem with a regulator at National Fuel’s pressurization substation at routes 86 and 198 in Woodcock Township, James said. The cold combined with increased natural gas demand on the system due to the cold caused the regulator to fail, James said.
During the low pressure situation, customers were asked to turn down their thermostats to reduce gas usage as the extremely cold weather put a strain on the system in that area, James said.
One Conneaut Lake resident, Gary Clark, had one of the worst of all problems Monday night — the loss of natural gas service due to a faulty valve at his home.
Clark took to social media website Facebook, heaping praise on the company and its personnel for the quick response.
“It was on the outside of the house on the west side where it was coldest,” Clark wrote in part. “He called in help and they had it fixed within a few hours. I was thinking it was getting cold in the house with the furnace turned off, but then I thought of the guys outside. Thanks National Fuel.”
The extreme cold significantly increased the demand for electricity across Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic region, leading the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to ask consumers to conserve electricity Tuesday.
PJM Interconnection is the electricity grid operator for more than 61 million people in 13 states (including Pennsylvania) and the District of Columbia. PJM reached an all-time winter peak Tuesday at 8 a.m.
Responding to a request from PJM, Meadville Area Water Authority and Meadville Area Sewer Authority voluntarily switched over to standby power between 6:30 and 11:10 a.m. Tuesday, using their own diesel-powered generators to fill their electricity needs. “Typically the only time we do that is during the summer, when air conditioners drive up the peak demand,” MAWA Project Manager Don Nold said Tuesday. By 5 p.m., MAWA was back on standby power for several hours, again at PJM’s request.
Despite the big chill, impacts were minor on utility lines locally.
Both Meadville and Vernon Township water authorities reported only a handful of problems on Tuesday.
By the end of the business day Tuesday, Nold reported that MAWA had received about eight calls from customers with frozen water meters and one call about an interior pipe that apparently froze and broke.
Water Operator Mike Gordon of Vernon Township Water Authority reported “a few freeze-ups and broken lines.”
The Cracker Barrel restaurant in Vernon Township had one of its fire sprinkler heads freeze and blow off the pipe, Gordon said. However, restaurant personnel had the problem under control when Gordon arrived and the restaurant remained open.
In West Mead Township, the Kwik Fill convenience store and gas station had frozen water pipes early Tuesday morning — meaning no coffee was available for customers. The store remained open Tuesday, but store personnel confirmed the frozen pipes meant restrooms weren’t available.
A check with some of the boroughs in central and western Crawford County found little problems — though Linesville did have a small water line break. That break, around 2 p.m. on Water Street, was undergoing repair, Karen Moss, borough secretary said.
Both Nold and Gordon urge area residents to protect pipes and water meters.
“Some people have broken windows or doors that really don’t shut tight — and the wind blew pretty hard,” Nold said.
“I was in a couple of places thawing out things that shouldn’t have frozen,” Gordon said, noting that people with unheated garages had their meters freeze — and that meters installed on outside walls are also at risk.
Both Nold and Gordon also agree that it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better with more freezing temperatures predicted to be followed by a rapid thaw. “If something freezes and thaws, it will flex the pipe,” Gordon explained. “It’s basically expansion and contraction — and the worse that can happen is rapid expansion and contraction.”
Conneaut, Crawford Central, PENNCREST and Titusville school districts are operating under a two-hour delay today.