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Bitter Cold Descends on Valley

  • Barry Chase, a driver for Simple Energy, makes an emergency delivery of heating oil to a home in West Lebanon, N.H. on January 1, 2014. Regular Simple Energy customers are on automatic delivery schedules, but the West Lebanon-based company also makes emergency on-call deliveries. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Barry Chase, a driver for Simple Energy, makes an emergency delivery of heating oil to a home in West Lebanon, N.H. on January 1, 2014. Regular Simple Energy customers are on automatic delivery schedules, but the West Lebanon-based company also makes emergency on-call deliveries. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Barry Chase, a driver for Simple Energy, makes an emergency delivery of heating oil to a home in West Lebanon, N.H. on January 1, 2014. Regular Simple Energy customers are on automatic delivery schedules, but the West Lebanon-based company also makes emergency on-call deliveries. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

West Lebanon — The Upper Valley is bracing for a frigid night with temperatures forecast to reach minus 20 or lower.

Areas shelters are already full and heating fuel companies are warning homeowners to check their fuel tanks so they don’t find themselves with an empty tank during dire circumstances.

Today, the high will be about 4 degrees in Lebanon, with a periodic wind chills of minus 20 degrees. The snowstorm that blanketed the Upper Valley on Thursday is expected to taper off this morning, along with blustery winds.

After sunset, the temperature is expected to fall significantly from its single-digit high. “Friday night will be one of the coldest nights of the (season) so far,” said Andrew Loconto, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Burlington.

Snowfall across the Upper Valley is expected to total six to 10 inches. It’s likely that areas farther south, such as Claremont, could see depths up to a foot.

As temperatures drop, both the Upper Valley Haven in Wilder and the various shelters in Claremont are full.

Southwestern Community Services oversees two facilities — one for single men and another for single women and families. The two shelters combined have 45 beds, and as of Thursday afternoon, all were claimed, said Ron Greenleaf, emergency housing coordinator for the Claremont shelters.

During extreme cold, however, the shelter doesn’t turn anyone away, said Laurie Tyler, director of housing stabilization services. The shelter has cots and couches and uses “whatever it takes” to house overflow. Then the next morning, outreach workers will meet with people who stayed the night and try to find them a better suited place.

Southwestern Community Services also has outreach coordinators in Sullivan and Cheshire counties who are responsible for going out in the community and checking on people who they know are living outside. Outreach coordinators canvas the area during cold spells, Tyler said, including Thursday and Friday of this week.

“The concerns that I have are the people that just won’t come in,” Tyler said. “It’s probably more concerning for us than it is for them. ... (We let) them know they can come in and almost begging for them to come in. Sometimes that works.”

The Haven’s shelters are also full, which is a common year-round occurrence.

But Sara Kobylenski, executive director of the Haven, said her organization is worried that the Haven doesn’t have enough capacity for its area, and she would like to open a warming shelter that could provide eight additional beds.

However, it won’t be open in time for this week’s cold spell. Kobylenski is hoping to open the warming shelter by Jan. 10, but that date is dependent on whether the Haven can get enough community volunteers to keep the shelter running. The Haven would use its own internal staffing for supervision, but it’s looking for volunteers who could work 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. or work half shifts.

The shelter would be housed at current Haven facilities in the Byrne Community Services area, which is in the same building as the family shelter. Kobylenski said it would be open until the weather breaks in March or April.

“We’re looking at an experiment to see if we can handle this winter crisis in a more thoughtful and cost efficient way,” Kobylenski said.

In Vermont, the state is available by calling 211 to help with housing needs during “cold weather exceptions,” which is when temperatures or wind chill are less than 20 degrees or when temperatures are less than 32 degrees and there is a more than 50 percent chance of precipitation.

The state can put people in hotels, but Kobylenski said that due to state budget cuts, the state is turning away more people than it did last year, which means those people then often arrive at the Haven. The Haven tries to exhaust other housing possibilities, such staying with a relative or friend, but will provide hotel vouchers if there are no other options. Kobylenski said she hopes the warming shelter would decrease the number of hotel vouchers that are currently needed and encourage people to come inside who might not currently be asking for help.

Wednesday afternoon, large stacks of water softener and bags of salt were covered with snow and lined the front sidewalk leading up to LaValley Building Supply. A green and red sign also advertised wood pellets, but LaValley has been running low on the stove fuel this winter.

Because of the high demand for pellets, LaValley’s supplier hasn’t been able to keep up a supply. On Dec. 19, LaValley had a waiting list for 40 tons of wood pellets. Last week, 25 tons were delivered, but all of that supply went directly to people who were already on the waiting list. Currently, LaValley has 24 tons on a waiting list. Assistant manager John Jackman said he hopes to get another supply within three weeks.

“I think this year there is just a lot more people who put in a pellet heating system, and we weren’t expecting the demand,” general manager Lucas Seaver said. “In the past, oil, propane and electric have gone up in price, but pellets have stayed pretty stable.”

The Dartmouth Skiway is also taking precautions because of the cold temperatures and will be closed today. The facility will use the time to repair the Winslow lift, which was closed a little after noon on Thursday so the hydraulic ram could be repaired.

When temperatures get extremely cold, the skiway sees fewer skiers, said Doug Holler, general manager, and safety of skiers and staff becomes a concern.

The hydraulic ram that needs repair controls the tension of the wire cable that carries lifts and skiers up the mountain. But Holler said the lift is still functional and there was no risk to safety.

“We just want to take advantage of it before (the lift) fails at an untimely time,” Holler said.

The cold weather also causes heating companies like Simple Energy in West Lebanon to see a spike in calls. Whenever the temperature drops to below 10 degrees, the company’s call volume can double, service manager Gordon Cruz said. Like many heating companies, managers are always on call to respond to customer’s requests, and Cruz said he often receives emergency calls for frozen pipes, low fuel levels and insufficient heat or no heat.

When temperatures drop, furnaces have to work extra hard to heat a home, causing the volume of fuel being used to increase. Cruz said it’s important for homeowners to check their fuel levels on a regular basis and when temperatures are dropping. A home could go from having a quarter of a tank to a dangerously low level very quickly.

And if a heating system is operating poorly, then customers should call for assistance right away.

“Time is of the essence,” Cruz said.

Wednesday afternoon, truck driver Barry Chase responded to a Simple Energy call in West Lebanon where a home ran out of oil.

Chase wore a sweatshirt and thick orange gloves as he connected a red hose to a nozzle on the white two-story house.

When the weather is in the teens and 20s, Chase said the company doesn’t receive as many calls, but when the temperature starts to drop below zero, old houses use a lot of oil.

“But that’s fine because that’s what we’re here for, to sell oil,” Chase said. “You can’t sell oil in the summer. We live for the cold weather.”

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.