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Temperatures fell to frigid lows Tuesday, causing school delays and frozen pipes and water mains in St. Mary’s County.

Much of the country was hit this week with a cold blast of arctic air, bringing temperatures that had not been seen in 20 years.

The low air temperature recorded Tuesday morning was 9 degrees at the Ridge home of weather watcher John Zyla. But his wooded lot is protected from the high winds that came overnight with the low temperatures. Those winds abated during daylight hours.

The wind chill Tuesday morning was minus 9 degrees at Patuxent River Naval Air Station and minus 5 degrees at St. Inigoes, the National Weather Service reported.

The cold weather quickly took its toll. “We are going to be busy,” Mary Ridgell, office manager at J.P. Wathen’s Plumbing in Hollywood, said Tuesday morning.

She arrived at work and immediately began taking phone calls from homeowners with frozen pipes.

She said one caller said the hose bib on the outside of the house froze and burst. Calls for frozen pipes have to be prioritized, she said, based on potential damage to properties.

Ridgell said leaving faucets dripping inside a home can help prevent pipes from freezing.

St. Mary’s public schools had a two-hour delayed start Tuesday. “I’m extremely cautious in terms of safety issues,” Superintendent Michael Martirano said.

By delaying school start times, the superintendent said, buses and cars had extra time to warm up and better visibility once the sun came up. The delay also gave staff time to check schools for issues related to the cold weather.

Leonardtown High School was closed completely Tuesday because of a water main break, Martirano said that morning.

“We had an underground water main break in the back of the building that feeds our sprinkler system,” he said. Water was flooding a parking lot and icing over, he said.

“It’s being addressed,” Martirano said.

Several other schools had minor heating problems that were fixed by school maintenance staff Tuesday morning, he said.

Harold Garrison, a plumbing instructor at the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center, said he was going to take the opportunity to teach about freezing pipes in class Tuesday.

“This time of the year, especially on these hard freezes, that’s all you hear about,” he said.

Garrison said pipes that freeze often do so where they come out of the ground. For those on public water systems, pipes sometimes freeze near the water meter on the outside of a home, Garrison said.

A well-placed hair dryer can often thaw a pipe. He advises people to leave their spigot running at a trickle because running water will take longer to freeze.

Dan Ichniowski, St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission director, said he was aware of few problems in the county related to public water pipes or mains freezing Tuesday.

“We’ve got a small, minor leak in St. Clement’s Shore,” that crews will address, he said. Also, a couple of water meters that are probably to shallow in the ground have frozen, which crews will thaw and then wrap with insulation.

It was 60 degrees at Zyla’s weather station on Monday morning. Twenty four hours later, it was 51 degrees colder.

“I think that’s a record for me. I’ve never had a swing that much” in temperature in 24 hours, he said.

While it was cold Tuesday with high temperatures that didn’t come close to getting above freezing, St. Mary’s County has seen worse. The high temperature was 9 degrees on Jan. 19, 1994, the same day that an elderly woman died at her Colton’s Point home after her propane heater failed.

The coldest low temperature recorded at Floyd Abell’s weather station in Hollywood was minus 8 degrees on Jan. 17, 1982. He kept weather records for 30 years until his death in 2010.

Since Friday’s snow storm and through Monday, AAA Mid-Atlantic had handled more than 31,600 service calls throughout their region, a 45 percent increase compared to the same time last year. Nearly 8,000 of those calls were from stranded Maryland motorists, and most were for towing and dead batteries.

The high call volume is attributed to the intense cold, inclement weather conditions and some carryover from the holidays, according to AAA.

“As the mercury drops to record-low levels over the next few days, we will likely continue to experience high levels of calls for service,” Ragina Cooper-Averella, public and government affairs manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said in a statement.

AAA automotive technicians recommend people at least start their vehicles and let them run for a few minutes if they do not plan on using them for several days in frigid temperatures.

jyeatman@somdnews.com jbabcock@somdnews.com

Keeping the water running

Water expands as it freezes. This expansion puts tremendous pressure on whatever is containing it, including metal or plastic pipes.

Water pipes that freeze most frequently are those that are exposed to severe cold, like outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines and water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, or kitchen cabinets.

To prevent frozen water pipes:

• Drain water from swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines following manufacturer’s or installer’s directions. Do not put antifreeze in these lines unless directed. Antifreeze is dangerous to humans, pets and wildlife.

• Remove, drain, and store hoses. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain and keep valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.

• Check around the home for areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas, such as in the basement, crawl space, attic, garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Both hot and cold water pipes in these areas should be insulated.

• Consider installing a pipe sleeve, heat tape, heat cable, or similar materials on exposed water pipes. Newspaper can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes — even a quarter-inch of newspaper can provide significant protection.

• Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals out of the reach of children.

• Let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe, even at a trickle, helps prevent pipes from freezing.

• Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55 degrees.

• If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe.

• Likely places for frozen pipes include against exterior walls or where water service enters the home through the foundation.

To thaw frozen pipes:

• Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.

• Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove or other open flame device.

• Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.