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Driveways were full of snow Tuesday morning as seen with this resident using a snowblower to clear the way.

Hydrologist: Snow could help thaw out frozen soil

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Hydrologist: Snow could help thaw out frozen soil
Jamestown North Dakota 121 3rd St NW 58401

Its contribution will be small, but one good thing will come from Monday’s blizzard that dropped 11 inches of snow on the Jamestown area.

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Allan Schlag, hydrologist with the National Weather Service office in Bismarck, said although the snow may have arrived months too late, it may assist in thawing out the frozen soil — where frost depths are approximately 6 feet deep — that has been freezing and breaking water and sewer pipes across the state.

Schlag said the lack of a snow cover helped stretches of subzero temperatures push that cold deeper into the ground.

“The snow itself tends to act as kind of an insulator so that’s one of the reasons why our frost depth is really significant this year. Not only were we cold, but we didn’t have the snowpack of 2009 or 2010,” Schlag said. “We had a fairly normal to lower than normal snowpack (this year).

“What I think is going to happen here is when you look at our air temperature — daytime highs in the 20s — that’s not nearly as cold as the temperatures we saw in January, February, March. If we are at 25 to 30 degrees below freezing, the nuclear fireball at the center of the Earth is emanating heat towards us and we start to loose frost on the bottom end.”

Schlag said with temperatures expected to reach in the high 40s by the end of the week, the threat of frozen or broken pipes and flooded basements should reduce dramatically.

“We should start seeing some pretty significant improvement over these frost depths as we hit this weekend,” he said. “We should start losing frost by a quarter of an inch or two a day, especially on the bottom end.”

Less than a month ago the Jamestown City Engineer’s Office issued an advisory for residents to check their water temperatures as the pipes — usually located 6 to 8 feet underground — succumbed to the ground frost that rarely reaches those depths.

“It’s been a weird year. I don’t know that anybody’s ever experienced this,” City Engineer Reed Schwartzkopf said Tuesday. “I’ve had a number of people tell me this has been the weirdest they’ve ever seen it up here, and these are some folks that are in their mid-50s, late 60s, and they just don’t remember a winter like this one. We’ve had some freeze-thaw cycles which are not normal up here.”

Schwartzkopf said it will be two to four more weeks before the city is free of the freezing-pipe issues. If residents have already checked their water and found it satisfactory, they should not have an issue. But residents who have not or have had issues should stay diligent.

To check water temperature, run a single faucet on cold for 3 to 5 minutes and measure it with a regular thermometer. If the water is 40 degrees or less, the pipes may be in danger of freezing, and at that point a continuous stream of water — about the diameter of a pencil — should run continuously to prevent damage.

Kevin Reuther, owner of Total Clean Total Cleaning Services in Jamestown said his company recently responded to a house with a frozen water pipe and about 18 inches of water in the basement.

“It’s been a little crazy this year, all that frost in the ground … We’ve seen anywhere from $5,000 damage to $20,000 damage,” Reuther said.

Reuther said the cost to repair a water or sewer pipe or a basement floor or wall can vary dramatically, especially if mold begins to set in. He said simple attentiveness could save a homeowner thousands of dollars.

“The biggest thing is the basement is kind of the forgotten room, so we only go down there when we really need to,” Reuther said. “We’ve even seen sprinkler lines that people had that come into their house for lawn irrigation — we’ve even seen those freezing up, too. The forgotten basement — we just don’t go down there every day and right now would be a good time for everybody to be looking at them on a day-to-day basis, just taking a periodic walkthrough.”

Sun reporter David Luessen can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at dluessen@jamestownsun.com

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