Extreme Cold Causes Burst Pipes, Spike in Fuel Demand in the Upper Valley

  • Lebanon High School custodian Jennifer Stone holds a model skeleton out of the way as her co-worker Terry Dube replaces a file cabinet Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in a classroom where heating pipes busrt on Monday. With the rooms in the school's science wing, where the damage occurred, were dried out over night Monday, custodians worked to ready the rooms for classes on Wednesday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Lebanon School Resource Officer Greg Parthum, right, and the school district's I.T. systems administrator Dan Hohmann look at burst heating pipes in an office at Lebanon High School Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. The broken pipes were discovered on Monday and administrators canceled classes Tuesday. School is expected to be back in session Wednesday, said Principal Ian Smith. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/3/2018 12:14:24 AM
Modified: 1/3/2018 10:07:19 AM

Lebanon — Homes and businesses across the Upper Valley are contending with burst pipes, spikes in heating oil demand and a run on electric heaters as temperatures dipped to subzero levels over the long holiday weekend.

In Lebanon, the temperature dropped to a low of minus 28 degrees on Monday night, according to the National Weather Service. That frigid cold extended north to St. Johnsbury, Vt., where the service reported a low of minus 27.

“That’s impressive right there,” Peter Banacos, a forecaster at the National Weather Service’s Burlington office, said on Tuesday afternoon. “It was pretty chilly this morning.”

The weather was enough for several local schools to either call off classes or postpone the start of the school.

Oxbow High School in Bradford, Vt., closed on Tuesday morning after several buses froze, according to a notice on the school’s website.

Lebanon High School was closed after pipes froze in the building’s science wing on Monday, according to Superintendent Joanne Roberts.

“In order to locate the main issues, the heat had to be turned off in certain sections of the building,” she said in an email. “We could not guarantee that the full building would have heat (on Tuesday), so the decision was made to cancel school.”

The school district also decided to issue a two-hour delay for Lebanon Middle School, the Mount Lebanon School and Hanover Street School to insure buses would run on-time and children wouldn’t be stuck waiting in the cold, Roberts said.

Lebanon High does plan to be open today, school officials said on Tuesday.

The Fort truck stop in Lebanon was closed from Monday to Tuesday afternoon after some exterior pipes froze, and the Montshire Museum of Science also was closed on Tuesday after pipes there burst.

“We’ve got a number of crews in today to help us with cleanup and re installation,” said Marcos Stafne, the museum’s executive director, who added the Montshire will open again today.

The Grafton County Senior Citizens Council also lost its heat for a short period of time on Tuesday at its downtown Lebanon building because an external part of its system froze, according to Executive Director Roberta Berner.

The building stayed open, however, to provide seniors a place to go during the day, she said.

Residents across the Upper Valley also reported difficulty heating their homes, with fuel companies working overtime to meet an increased demand.

“We haven’t seen something like this in many, many years,” said Matt Cota, executive director of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association.

While the region has seen cold snaps, he said, it’s rarely had to contend with such a prolonged period of cold.

The extreme temperatures have caused more customers to use up their propane at quicker rates, Cota said, adding companies are in turn working nearly around the clock to meet demand.

“It’s like triage,” he said. “We are in an emergency situation.”

Both Vermont and New Hampshire issued emergency declarations, allowing the temporary suspension of a federal rule limiting how much time fuel drivers can spend on the road.

Federal regulations normally prohibit home heating drivers from spending more than 10 hours a day on the road, but the cold temperatures are requiring them to work much longer, Cota said.

“Just working normal banker’s hours isn’t going to cut it,” he said.

Many heating company owners are working alongside their employees to deliver fuel, said Bob Scully, executive director of the Oil Heat Council of New Hampshire.

“They just can’t meet all the demands they’re used to,” he said on Tuesday.

Temperatures are roughly 30 degrees colder than many companies were projecting earlier this winter, meaning fuel is being consumed at a much faster rate than was expected, Scully said. And to catch up, he said, companies generally would need 30 percent more trucks on the road to meet the demand.

When the region does reach normal temperatures, Scully predicted it will take two weeks before fuel companies are working on a normal schedule.

Until then, companies are warning customers that it could be several weeks before they get another delivery.

Rymes Propane & Oil said it was experiencing call volumes at “record levels all week” in a post on Facebook.

“Our hold times are, as you would expect, longer than normal, ranging from five to 10 minutes,” the post said, adding Rymes is now booking deliveries for the week of Jan. 15.

Dead River Company also posted on Facebook on Tuesday, saying it is focused on “serving our current customers” and warning there could be a delay responding to requests.

Perry Plummer, New Hampshire’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management director, also asked residents to be “patient but persistent” with oil companies in a Tuesday news release.

“If you are in need of fuel, call your service provider,” Plummer said. “With high call volumes, wait times can be 10 minutes or longer. Be patient and stay on the call. Fuel is available and service providers are making deliveries as quickly as possible.”

Several Upper Valley residents took to social media this week to express that they had either run out of heating fuel or might soon.

Tom Chase, a White River Junction resident, said his propane tanks are now at 25 percent and his family is working to conserve what’s left.

“We called the fuel company and they gave us a date toward the end of January when they were going to be out,” Chase said in a phone interview.

The company has since said Chase could expect more fuel sometime around Thursday, but there’s no guarantee it will be there.

His house is on an auto-pay plan, meaning propane is delivered on a regular basis, and Chase thought that would prevent the tanks from running low.

“We have an electric fireplace, so we’ve been turning that on,” Chase said, adding he’s sleeping in multiple layers and avoiding using the propane stove.

Much of the country is contending with cold weather this week, which is being blamed for at least nine deaths, according to the Associated Press.

Wind chill advisories and freeze warnings were issued on Tuesday from Canada to south Texas, including a “hazardous weather outlook” that covered much of northern New England.

The National Weather Service expected “subzero wind chills” to continue across the region throughout Tuesday, with cold temperatures expected to combine with wind for “dangerously cold chills” throughout the rest of the week.

Residents who are looking for electric space heaters as a supplement for traditional fuel are largely out of luck. Hardware stores throughout the Upper Valley are reporting their stocks are depleted.

“They’re flying off the shelves right now,” said Robin Parker, the owner of Canaan Hardware and Supply. “Hopefully, people don’t have too much damage before it warms up.”

Parker said supplies, such as heat tape and insulation, also are in a high demand among people who have either experienced heating problems or are worried they soon will.

“Nobody wants to run out,” she said.

It could be several days before the region begins to warm up, according to Banacos, the Burlington-based weather forecaster.

The National Weather Service predicts the temperatures in Lebanon will drop to -15 degrees on Friday night, with a high of 5 degrees during the day.

On Saturday, the city is expected to see a high of -3, with a projected low of -19 that night.

“Maybe there will be some moderation early next week, but we have to get though the weekend first,” said Banacos, the forecaster.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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