Frozen pipes in Wisconsin multiply from polar vortex

Frozen pipes in homes and businesses have been a major problem during this current frigid cold snap affecting the US this week. Plumbers have been kept busy with frozen pipes.

Mark Kauzlarich/REUTERS
People walk into the wind outside the Brown County Courthouse in Green Bay, Wisconsin, January 6, 2014. Temperatures were 20 to 40 degrees F (11-22 degrees C) below average in parts of Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska, according to the National Weather Service.

Plumbers worked to thaw frozen house pipes and utility crews raced to restore power in the Dodge County area, as an arctic chill continued to shroud Wisconsin in subzero temperatures Tuesday.

The National Weather Service issued a wind chill warning through noon, and schools districts in Milwaukee and Madison remained closed. But the frigid temperatures meant good business for plumbers, tow truck drivers and those who deliver hot food to customers unwilling to venture outside in the cold.

Carl's Plumbing Services in Milwaukee was inundated with calls reporting burst or frozen pipes, and the Milwaukee company's six plumbers raced from one call to another, said Brian Czerwonka, the company's vice president. He said business began picking up Monday afternoon, but that things were even busier on Tuesday after more than 24 hours of prolonged cold.

"There were a few burst pipes and a lot of frozen pipes," he said.

Business was also brisk for pizza-delivery drivers. Scott Perkins of Glass Nickel Pizza in Madison told WMTV-TV that on freezing days like Monday, he could expect to bring in as much as twice his normal earnings.

Perkins said he prepares for the weather by making sure his car battery is in good shape, dressing appropriately and bringing along a spare car key so he can lock his vehicle and leave it running while he makes the delivery. He said he learned that lesson the hard way in September when his running car was stolen while he was making a delivery. It was later found abandoned near a mall.

Temperatures dipped to 26 below zero at Phillips early Tuesday and 24 below at Hayward and Ladysmith.

There were no immediate reports of fatalities, but Wisconsin emergency officials were investigating whether three deaths Friday were related to the freezing temperatures. The deaths were in Ashland, Marquette and Milwaukee counties.

On the Lac du Flambeau reservation in northern Wisconsin, a woman who couldn't start her minivan in temperatures of minus 23 degrees escaped injury when she slid hot coals under the vehicle to warm the engine chamber.

The coals started a fire that caused about $1,000 in damages to the vehicle, tribal Police Chief Robert Brandenburg said. He said he used to use the charcoal trick himself 20 to 25 years ago, but he doesn't advise people try it, especially on newer cars.

About 1,000 homes and businesses in Dodge County lost power Tuesday morning, mainly in the Town of Clyman near Watertown. We Energies crews were working to restore service.

About 900 other customers in Monona also lost power overnight but Madison Gas & Electric brought in extra employees who worked in the bitter cold to get the power back on, WKOW-TV reported.

Police in Beloit arrested a mother after two young children, a 5-year-old and an 18-month-old, were found alone in a cold car in a Walmart parking lot. The mother told authorities she left the children in the vehicle with its engine off while she shopped Monday evening, with temperatures well below zero. WKOW-TV reported the children were OK.

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