The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

January 6, 2014

Polar vortex brings Arctic temperatures to Athens

By Budd McLaughlin
bud@athensnews-courier.com

ATHENS —

It’s called a “polar vortex” by meteorologists.

But, the rest of us just say it’s just flat-out freezing outside.

Or, in the case of Monday and today, below freezing – way below freezing.

It’s also been a cold snap for the records, too.

Athens Utilities General Manager Gary Scroggins said the system set a peak demand around 10 a.m. Monday at 305 megawatts. The previous record was 291 megawatts set in December 2010.

“(The demand) then started backing off slightly to 276 megawatts,” Scroggins said. “We expect the load to remain about the same until around 4 this afternoon, then begin increasing again.

“We will almost certainly set a new peak Tuesday morning.”

Athens Utilities Customer Relations Manager Amy Golden asks that utility customers do the following to help keep the system stable during this period of below freezing temperatures:

● Avoid activities that put more demand on the system, such as running dishwashers and washing machines.

● If there is a power outage, turn off all lights and electrical heating sources.

● When power returns, gradually bring items back online to help maintain the quality of the power system and avoid a greater demand on the system.

The temperatures this morning could also “flirt with a record,” said Brian Carcione, a meteorologist with Huntsville’s National Weather Service office.

“As of right now, the high for Huntsville was 25 degrees. If it holds, it would tie the record low maximum back in 1924.

“The record low (for today) is 5, set in 1912,” he said. “We’re forecasting a low at the airport of about 4 degrees.”

And, Carcione said, a wind chill of 5-below is forecast for this morning.

The cold has delayed a major project downtown, she said.

The sewer work that would close Hobbs Street between Beasley and Thomas streets was expected to start Monday but was delayed to Wednesday and Thursday.

The severe cold also caused equipment failure for Huntsville’s sanitation department and crews couldn’t complete many of their routes Monday. The city suspended the rest of Monday’s garbage pickup and canceled today’s, pushing the pickup dates back two days.

The sanitation department also asked residents to make sure their garbage can lids aren’t frozen shut.

Athens Water/Wastewater Manager John Stockton said residents should leave a faucet dripping tonight to help prevent pipes from bursting.

“Leaving water dripping won’t necessarily stop pipes from freezing, but it will prevent them from bursting because it provides the pressure needed to move water through the pipes once it starts thawing,” Stockton said.

The cause of the Arctic cold is, literally, air directly from the Arctic, Carcione said.

“The polar vortex is something that’s usually permanent over Canada this time of the year,” he said. “Right now, it’s centered over Michigan, bringing a tremendous rush of air from the Arctic.”

The good news, though, is that today will be the worst of the cold as temperatures will hit near 10 tonight before climbing the rest of the week.

“We should get back to the freezing mark about midday Wednesday,” Carcione said.

And then …

“It should be in the mid 50s Friday and the 60s Saturday,” he said.

“But, it will be wet.”