Extreme cold alert issued for Niagara

Expected cold temperatures combined with cold wind create extreme conditions

Environment Canada and the Niagara Region have issued extreme cold alerts as the temperature expected to drop severely starting Thursday evening Jan. 4/2018 until Saturday Jan. 6/2018.

“Temperatures will fall rapidly this evening to reach lows near -20° C Celsius,” the most recent alert from Environment Canada says. “Wind chill values due to northwest winds near 50 kilometres per hour will be near -30° C tonight. Temperatures and wind chill values will be slightly lower Friday night. The extreme cold will continue until Saturday morning.

“Cover up. Frostbite can develop within minutes on exposed skin, especially with wind chill,” the alert says. “Check on older family, friends and neighbours. If it’s too cold for you to stay outside, it’s too cold for your pet to stay outside.”

Niagara Region Public Health has issued an extreme cold alert.

“The Extreme Cold Weather Alert is intended to mobilize outreach workers and community agencies, recommend precautions for the general public during extreme cold weather, and offer information on the location of shelters and additional resources,” the alert from Niagara Region said. “During extreme cold, those most at risk include: infants under one year of age, individuals 65 years of age or older, the homeless, outdoor workers, sport enthusiasts (skiers, ice skaters), people living in homes that are poorly insulated or without heat, and people living in homes without power (usually due to other weather-related events such as a winter storm).”

The alert issued included cold weather safety tips to avoid the risk of cold-related injuries:

  • ​Cover exposed skin (exposed skin can become frostbitten in 30 seconds)
  • Wear a hat (up to 40 per cent of body heat loss can occur through the head)
  • Wear gloves or mittens, and a scarf to protect the chin, lips, and cheeks
  • Keep children indoors if the temperature falls below –25 C, or if the wind chill is –28 C or greater
  • Drink warm fluids, but not caffeinated or alcoholic beverages as they cause your body to lose heat more rapidly
  • Wear clothes in layers to include an inner layer, middle layer, and outer layer
  • Keep moving. Limit time sitting by standing up and moving around
  • Take shelter from the wind to reduce wind chill exposure
  • Use caution when shoveling snow especially for those that have heart, respiratory (breathing) problems or other medical conditions. Snow shoveling strenuous and can cause an onset of heart or respiratory problems.
  • Always be alert for signs of frostbite and hypothermia

The City of St. Catharines and the City of Welland have issued a press releases on how to prevent frozen water lines at home.

“One of the lesser-known effects of cold weather is the potential for the extreme cold to freeze underground utilities like water lines,” the City of St. Catharines press release said. “Water lines are at risk for freezing when extremely cold weather leads to deeper than normal frost levels. Most water lines are safely buried 1.5 metres underground, below the frost line of a typical winter. However, periods of extreme cold temperature can cause the frost line to move deeper underground, putting water lines at risk for freezing.”

Frozen water lines can leave homes without running water for several days.

St. Catharines residents who experience frozen water lines are asked to call contact Citizens First at 905.688.5600 or email citizensfirst@stcatharines.ca.

“As extreme cold temperatures in the forecast continue over the next few days, The City of Welland is reminding residents how to prevent drinking-water pipes in their homes from freezing,” the City of Welland press release said.

How to prevent water service lines from freezing

  • Ensure areas that contain indoor water pipes are kept above 8ºC, especially near the water meter
  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage
  • Open kitchen, bathroom and laundry cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate around the plumbing
  • If leaving for an extended period of time:
    • Close the main valve that supplies water to your internal plumbing. It is typically located in the basement on the foundation wall where the drinking water pipe enters your home. Once the valve is closed, open a cold water tap in the basement ,or the lowest point in the residence, to drain any remaining water from the pipes
    • You may also wish to have someone check your home regularly
  • You may choose to run a pencil-thin stream of water to ensure some movement of water in the pipes; however, this will be charged to your water account
  • Run cold water from the lowest point in the house, usually a laundry room sink or tub
  • Ensure the drain is kept clear of debris to prevent overflowing or flooding

How to Thaw your frozen pipes

If you turn on your taps and have no water, the pipes in your home may be frozen. Likely places for frozen pipes include:

  • Against exterior walls
  • Where the water service pipe enters the home through the foundation wall

Here are some tips and precautions when thawing frozen pipes

  • Do not use a torch with an open flame to thaw pipes – this is a fire hazard
  • Ensure you know the location of your master water shut-off valve. If the pipe breaks you will need to immediately shut off the water in your house until the pipe is repaired

Steps to thaw frozen pipes

  • Turn on a tap in the basement, preferably the cold water faucet in the laundry room
  • Apply heat to the suspected frozen pipe by warming the air around it or applying heat directly to the pipe. You can use an electric heating pad, hair dryer, space heater or warm towel or rag
    • Do not leave electrical devices unattended, or use kerosene or propane heaters, charcoal stoves or any open flame to thaw a frozen pipe
    • Depending on the outside temperature and the extent of freezing within the pipe, the thawing process could take between one and six hours
    • Once the pipes have thawed, turn the water back on slowly and check for cracks and leaks

If the steps above don’t resolve the issue, the City of Welland recommends you call a licensed plumber for advice.

The City of Port Colborne issued a release which also talks about dangers to water meters in the extreme cold and has directions for Port Colborne residents to pursue should their meter be frozen.

“Another plumbing component that could be affected in cold weather that property owners don’t often think about is the water meter. While the water meter is owned by the City, the Water Bylaw (3151/22/95) states that it is the property owner’s responsibility to protect the water meter from freezing. Residential sized meters have a backing plate, called a frost plate, which is designed to burst should the meter freeze. This plate not only prevents damage to the main body of the meter should it freeze, but prevents the plumbing attached to the meter from bursting,” the release said.

To avoid a frozen water meter, consider the suggestions Inspect your water meter (usually located near the main building water shut off inside the home – usually in a basement or a crawlspace) to ensure the area is above 8°C.

  • If the meter is in a closed in area in the basement (i.e. cold cellar, closet, behind a panel) leave the door/panel open to allow warm air to circulate around the meter.
  • If the meter is installed close to an outside basement wall, consider installing a piece of foam board between the meter and the wall – cold air can radiate from the wall and cause the meter to freeze.
  • Meters in crawlspaces or unheated areas, such as garages, require special protection. Ensure the meter is well insulated, or consider installing freeze protection cable, available at hardware stores, along the water line and the meter to ensure the plumbing and the meter does not freeze in the crawlspace.

If your meter has frozen and the frost plate or the meter has burst, property owners should do the following:

  • Turn off the water at the building shut off valve immediately before the water meter to stop further flooding of the basement or crawlspace. If the building shut off valve isn’t functional, contact the Engineering and Operations Department at 905-835- 5079 to have the water shut off at the property line.

Once the water has been shut off and Engineering and Operations has been contacted, property owners have two options to repair the burst frost plate:

  • Property owners, or their plumber, can pick up a frost plate repair kit at the Engineering and Operations Centre, located at 1 Killaly Street West, between 8:00 am – 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday, and repair the meter themselves, and then contact the City to come out to inspect and re-seal the meter. The property owner will receive an invoice for the frost plate repair kit (approximately $25), and if they had a plumber repair the frost plate, pay the plumber’s invoice.
  • Request that City staff repair the water meter. The property owner would be invoiced for frost plate repair kit and will be invoiced for the staff time required to complete the repair. Note that City staff will not enter confined crawlspaces, nor pump water out of crawlspaces or basements to facilitate repairs. In some cases, the homeowner may have to retain a plumber.
  • Note that the repair costs for emergency repairs (between 4pm and 8am, Monday to Friday, and all day Saturday and Sunday) will be invoiced at afterhours emergency call out rates.
  • In some cases, the meter itself freezes and bursts. In these instances, the homeowner still has two options to replace the meter; however, the cost for a replacement meter is much higher than the cost for a frost plate, and the property owner will be billed for the actual cost of the replacement water meter – beginning at approximately $400.



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