Cold temperatures impact many in area Tuesday

By Katie Demeria

Though relief from frigid temperatures should arrive soon, the polar vortex that swept through areas of Virginia on Tuesday left many scrambling to prevent a severe impact.

The cold hindered travel in various parts of the commonwealth — AAA experienced a higher volume of calls than usual Tuesday morning, largely from individuals with dead batteries or cars that would not start.

Mass transit was also impacted, with a cracked Metro rail causing delays in Washington and HOV lanes on Interstate 95 opening an hour later than usual due to frozen gate motors.

During the day Tuesday, the wind chill warning issued by the National Weather Service was decreased to a wind chill advisory scheduled to end at midnight.

NWS meteorologist Bryan Jackson said the wind was still blowing throughout the day Tuesday, and would possibly continue to do so through the night, but the temperatures largely did not reach minus 20 degrees, the minimum for a wind chill warning.

“There might still be some minus 20-degree readings at higher elevations, like in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but we wanted to highlight more of what is happening in the valley itself and what will continue through the evening hours,” Jackson said.

The Shenandoah Valley likely will see a south breeze today, Jackson added, causing temperatures to rise out of the single digits and into the upper 20s and 30s.

That temperature increase likely will come as a relief to many, including power cooperatives such as Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative.

SVEC requested that its members use as little power as possible to prevent widespread blackouts, SVEC’s Manager of External Affairs Mike Aulgur said.

“There’s an extreme demand that’s been placed on the infrastructure associated with the electric utility industry,” Aulgur said. “As a result of that extreme demand, we want to make sure that reliability remains at the level we are accustomed to.”

Aulgur said the cooperative is acting in response to a PJM Interconnection request. PJM is a regional transmission organization that monitors power usage, and it urged individuals within the area not to use too much power.

“We’re asking folks to unplug anything that’s not vital,” Aulgur said. “When you leave your home, unplug your computer and your phone chargers. We need to try to reduce consumption as much as we can at this time.”

Ann Lewis, of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, said REC has not asked its members to limit power usage, but actually has programs in place to prepare for moments when power demands are high.

“Many of our members participate in a program that allows us to put a load management switch on their electric water heater,” Lewis said. “The participants allow us to manage their energy use on their electric water heaters so demand is reduced during peak time.”

Though neither SVEC nor REC reported mass outages in the area, some buildings in the area, such as The Italian Touch in Middletown, lost power Monday night.

Italian Touch manager Dustin Cornwell said the temperature in the building was 42 degrees in the morning, and only increased to around 51 degrees.

“Pipes froze up in the bathrooms too, and the pipe for the fountain drinks,” he added. “We’ve been using two-liter bottles because we couldn’t get the soda to flow.”

The restaurant will try to prepare for the return of bitterly cold temperatures Tuesday night by removing ceiling tiles and allowing the heat from the oven to keep the pipes warm.

“Luckily our ovens and grill and everything are run on gas,” Cornwell said.

Ian Strom, the head mechanic for Olde Town Garage in Winchester, said it is likely that some motorists in the area will experience issues with their vehicles, as well.

“The cold can impact everything in your car,” he said. “Number one being your battery.”

Low temperatures make it difficult for the battery to operate correctly, Strom said. Any plastic on cars may also crack in cold weather, and tires with tread wear may have a difficult time on frozen roads.

“As long as people keep up with their maintenance, they’ll usually be good,” Strom said. “A lot of people neglect their cars, and don’t do much about them until they end up breaking.”

Frederick County Fire and Rescue department issued a press release Tuesday in which it urged local residents who are using alternate means of heating their homes to be cautious.

“Half of all home-heating fires occur during December, January, and February,” the release stated.

It went on to offer suggestions for staying safe, such as giving space heaters plenty of space in which to operate, have fireplaces inspected and cleaned each year, and install smoke alarms in every bedroom.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com