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Arctic blast to linger a little longer

Freezes plumbing, spikes demand on electric grid

Photo by Deb Gau Outdoor spaces like Independence Park in Marshall were looking pretty empty on Monday, as bitterly cold temperatures kept people indoors. A blast of Arctic air brought temperatures averaging 21 to 24 degrees below zero to the area Sunday night, along with wind chills as cold as 35 to 40 degrees below zero.

MARSHALL — Bitterly cold temperatures settled in over southwest Minnesota over the weekend, along with wind chills of more than 30 degrees below zero.

While the city of Marshall was lucky enough not to see water main breaks from the frost as of Monday, it could still happen, said Jeff Larson, water operations manager at Marshall Municipal Utilities.

“This weekend has been pretty busy,” with MMU responding to calls of frozen pipes in buildings around Marshall. The number of calls started picking up around Friday, he said.

At the same time, customers of the Lyon-Lincoln Electric Cooperative were advised Monday to conserve electricity and lessen the demand on the power grid over the next 48 hours. The problem wasn’t just from increased demand in Minnesota, said LLEC line superintendent Lyle Lamote. Rather, power companies across multiple states were facing outages as historically low temperatures hit much of the south and central U.S.

The cause of the cold snap this week was lots of frigid air spilling south from Canada and the Arctic, said Matthew Dux, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls.

“A lot of this cold air had been bottled up across the Arctic,” Dux said. Temperatures in the Marshall region had been relatively mild earlier this winter. “What changed in February is the (weather) pattern shifted.”

Dux said the region entered a period of very cold temperatures over the past five to 10 days, and the cold will likely linger a while before moving out.

A wind chill warning, and later an advisory, were in effect in the Marshall area on Monday. On Sunday night, temperatures dropped well below zero in the Marshall area and around the Buffalo Ridge, Dux said. Temperatures in the Marshall area averaged from 21 to 24 degrees below zero.

“It was a little colder just to the south,” Dux said. Low temperatures in northwest Iowa were 25 to 30 degrees below zero.

At the same time, the coldest wind chills in the Marshall area hit 35 to 40 degrees below zero, Dux said.

On Monday, LLEC posted on Facebook that because of the extreme cold, the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) was asking consumers to save electricity starting at midnight on Monday through midnight on Wednesday.

In the southern U.S., cold temperatures are creating an unusually high demand for power, Lamote said.

SPP oversees the bulk electric grid and wholesale power market for utilities and transmission companies in 17 states. LLEC’s power supplier, East River Electric Power Cooperative, is a transmission owner in SPP — so increased demand on SPP carries a risk of power outages in our region.

Consumers were urged to turn down their thermostats a few degrees, hold off on using large appliances and turn off unnecessary lights and appliances.

So far, Lamote said, “We’ve been pretty fortunate” in southwest Minnesota. As of Monday, he said there had been no local power outages connected to the cold temperatures.

The cold temperatures were more of a challenge for water lines over the weekend. Larson said MMU had been taking lots of calls from customers in Marshall since Friday.

“There’s been a lot of internal plumbing issues, with crawlspaces and basements not getting heat down there,” Larson said. Larson said if MMU customers notice the water from their faucets getting colder than usual, they should run the faucet, with the stream of water about the size of a pencil. It will help prevent the pipes from freezing, he said.

Larson said there hadn’t been any water main breaks in Marshall as of Monday, but it might still happen as frost works its way deeper into the ground. With less snow cover on the ground to insulate the soil this winter, the frost would move more quickly, he said.

Dux said it would take some time for the cold Arctic air to move out of the region. However, NWS forecasts show temperatures gradually climbing higher later this week, with highs in the 20s and 30s over the weekend.

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