Public Safety

Eastern Iowa shivers as cold extends even deep into Texas

Ice forms on the beak and eye of a bald eagle flying Sunday above the Cedar River looking for fish just past the dam in
Ice forms on the beak and eye of a bald eagle flying Sunday above the Cedar River looking for fish just past the dam in downtown Cedar Rapids. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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As parts of the Corridor endured their fourth day in a row of high temperatures at or below zero, the state’s largest utilities asked customers Monday to reduce their use of natural gas because of the added strain.

A cold weather system for days has plunged temperatures across a wide swath of the nation to below freezing. Some 50 million Americans are expected to experience temperatures below zero.

Even though the National Weather Service ended a weekend wind chill warning for much of Eastern Iowa, temperatures still are forecast to be quite cold. Temperatures around Cedar Rapids and Iowa City are not expected to crack freezing — 32 degrees above zero — until at least Sunday.

If that forecast holds, it means Cedar Rapids and nearby communities will have gone 16 consecutive days this month with highs at freezing or below, according to weather service data.

Utilities asking customers for help

Alliant Energy and MidAmerican Energy were encouraging customers to reduce their natural gas use during the extreme cold, citing the spiking demand.

Both utilities recommended making sure windows are sealed and making sure snow and ice are not blocking intake and exhaust pipes.

Customers also should not use ovens or outdoor grills to heat their home.

Alliant and MidAmerican advised customers to open curtains or blinds during the day to allow sunlight to come in, but to close them at night to fight cold air leaks.

Other recommendations included turning down thermostats overnight or when a customer is gone, testing carbon monoxide detectors and limiting the use of space heaters.

Homeowners dealing with frozen pipes

If you’re one of the many dealing with frozen water pipes in your home, your first call should be to a professional, advised Jim Streit, owner of Streit’s Maintenance in Iowa City.

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First of all, if your pipes are frozen, chances are other people are calling a plumber to deal with that, too, Streit said.

“When one plumber is busy, normally they all are,” he said.

The second reason is that trying to thaw a frozen pipe on your own can be ineffective at the least and dangerous at the worst, Streit said. Depending on the area you are trying to thaw out, a heating element like a hair dryer might not get the job done. Other sources of heat could potentially melt insulation or start a fire.

“I try to steer people away from some of that stuff,” Streit said. “Sometimes it takes a turn for the worse.”

Streit said frozen pipes are most prevalent in mobile homes, where heat tape on the water line can fail for various reasons. Streit recommends checking that heat tape from time to time to make sure it’s working. For all homes, Streit recommends sealing up drafty areas.

Commuters should be prepared for cold

If you think a cold weather kit for your car is an ice scraper and some jumper cables, think again.

Depending on the severity of the storm and your location, it could be quite some time for help to arrive if you find yourself broken down by the side of the road.

If you have to travel in the cold, plan your trip and check the latest weather reports to try to avoid storms, recommended Greg Buelow, spokesman for Cedar Rapids public safety.

Carry a winter storm survival kit including:

• Blankets or sleeping bags

• Flashlight with extra batteries

• First-aid kit

• Knife

• High-calorie, non-perishable food

• Extra clothing to keep dry

• Large empty can and plastic cover with tissues and paper towels for sanitary purposes

• A can, candles and waterproof matches to melt snow for drinking water

• Sack of sand (or cat litter) for traction

• Shovel

• Windshield scraper and brush

• Tool kit

• Tow rope

• Battery jumper cables

• Water container

• Compass and road map.

Also, Buelow advised to keep your gas tank near full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines; and to let someone else know your planned travel route and timetable.

Officials also recommend an extra charging cable or battery for your cellphone.

John Steppe, Lee Hermiston and Kat Russell of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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