After enjoying one of the most forgiving winters in decades for underground water pipes, Kenosha Water Utility general manager Ed St. Peter is anticipating a rough weekend ahead.
A thin frost line should move significantly deeper into the ground with the expected arrival of sub-zero temperatures in Kenosha. On Friday, the predicted high is 5 degrees with a low of minus 4, according to Weather.com.
Broken water mains are common in winter as underground pipes freeze, expand and soon burst. There have been 48 breaks from Nov. 1 to Jan. 23, down from 71 during the same period last year.
“It’s less than normal because there’s very little frost in the ground,” said St. Peter, a 48-year veteran with the Kenosha Water Utility. “We only have about 2 inches of frost, and that’s almost nothing. A few years ago when we had the polar vortex, we had 5½ feet of frost. This is the least amount of frost in January I can ever recall. So far, it’s been very nice.”
There is typically about 2 to 3 feet of frost in late January.
A large break occurred Tuesday morning in the 1900 block of 52nd Street. The lengthy repair limited water service for several hours for area residents and businesses, according to St. Peter.
One of the most visually impressive water main breaks occurred on Jan. 17 at the corner of 65th Street and 15th Avenue. Water reportedly shot as high as 100 feet before workers sealed off the ruptured pipe.
“That made for a pretty neat picture,” St. Peter said. “Usually, they don’t go up like that. Everything has to be just right. The break has to be at the top and the road has to be in such bad shape that the water is able to push the road out of the way to create such a fountain. I’ve seen maybe a dozen of those. That was a big one.”
St. Peter urged local residents to maintain heat throughout all levels of their homes during the expected cold stretch.
A broken basement window can create serious issues, according to St. Peter.
Winter travelers who forgot to adjust the heat can also return home to an unexpected cleanup project.
“People need to be aware,” St. Peter said. “I’ve seen homes get totally ruined when a pipe breaks on the second floor and just trashes the house.”
Motorists should also use extra caution as the extreme cold could turn slush-covered roads into skating rinks. Local residents are encouraged to stay inside unless it’s absolutely necessary to leave the home.
“Safety is a big concern,” St. Peter said. “If you’re driving and your car breaks down and you don’t have extra, warm clothes, you will freeze awfully fast when it’s 15 below zero.”