Much of US still gripped by arctic weather as Memphis deals with numerous broken water pipes

Jan 21, 2024, 8:33 AM | Updated: 4:40 pm

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Subfreezing conditions and treacherous roadways have contributed to dozens of deaths this month across the U.S., where states as far south as Texas and Florida remain gripped by deadly arctic weather Sunday. But the numbing cold is expected to ease up in the coming days.

Nationally, winter storms have claimed at least 72 lives around the U.S. this January, many involving hypothermia or road accidents.

On Sunday, crews in Memphis, Tennessee, continued to work around the clock to find and fix broken pipes that were causing low water pressure throughout the system. Memphis Light, Gas and Water President and CEO Doug McGowen told reporters Sunday afternoon that crews are making progress and he expects most of the 700,000 people the utility services to have water restored over the next 24 hours.

“If we remain on this very positive path, and we are on a positive path, I believe that by Wednesday we will have pressure sufficient for us to take samples of our water system,” he said. “Assuming good results, we think that means a Thursday for lifting of the boil water advisory.”

McGowen also asked people to stop dripping their faucets to help build pressure in the system.

Memphis Light, Gas and Water was repairing 10 water main breaks on Sunday afternoon, and McGowen said he expects to see more as the ground continues to thaw. The utility said it previously repaired 41 broken water mains and located more than 4,000 leaks at homes and businesses.

Rhodes College, in Memphis, began sending students living there home on Saturday and moving those who could not return home to hotels. The school was planning virtual classes on Monday and Tuesday.

“We ask that you NOT come to campus either day due to the ongoing water situation and the hazards that creates,” the school announcement said.

Sam Roth is a junior majoring in politics, philosophy and economics who drove back home to Nashville rather than staying in a hotel where he would still be required to boil water.

“Our faucets stopped working, and they said not to use any of the restrooms on our floor, and our showers were not working very well either,” he said of the situation in his dormitory.

Restaurants and bars were using bottled water to serve customers on Sunday. Some restaurants remained closed, citing the water issue, while others had a modified menu.

Memphis was the largest, but not the only, water system in Tennessee to experience problems from the unusually cold weather. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said on Saturday night that 28 water systems have issued boil water notices.

In Tipton County, the fire department in Mason warned residents on Saturday to be prepared for a multiday water outage. Fire officials said in a Facebook post that water crews were working at all hours to try to isolate and repair leaks.

The mayor acknowledged in an interview with WMC-TV that the town has had water issues in the past due to a system that “nobody took care of for a long time” and is need of updates.

“The whole town has been without water for five days,” said exasperated Mason resident Christina Ray. The fire department is handing out water throughout the town of 1,300 residents, but is limiting it to one case per day, per household. That’s not enough for her family, which was collecting snow to flush the toilets.

“It’s hard to cook. It’s hard to flush toilets. It’s hard to do dishes. We can’t wash laundry,” she said.

With warmer temperatures predicted this week, Ray now says she’s faced with another worry: the potential of bursting pipes.

The continued cold weather is also responsible for at least 27 deaths in Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

Just south in Mississippi, the state’s Emergency Management Agency said Sunday that 11 people have died of causes related to frigid weather since Jan. 14.

Elsewhere, freezing rain, sleet and high wind gusts later Sunday would make traveling in parts of Kansas and Oklahoma particularly treacherous, the National Weather Service said. Wind chills in Iowa made it feel like minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 degrees Celsius) in some parts.

But the end of subzero temperatures — which blasted into the U.S. on Friday — was in sight for parts of the country. The daily high temperatures in Iowa’s capital of Des Moines, for example, were expected to stay above freezing starting Monday.

“With no additional replenishment of arctic air from Canada, a steady warm-up is in store for the mid-section of the country,” the weather service said.

In western New York, Buffalo Bills fans were getting ready for another home playoff game Sunday evening against the Kansas City Chiefs, with temperatures forecast around 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 degrees Celsius), winds around 10 mph (16 kph) and a slight chance of snow showers. On Friday and Saturday, hundreds of people showed up at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park to help shovel snow out of the stands for the second week in a row, earning $20 an hour.

The Erie County Sheriff’s Office was urging fans Sunday to not throw snowballs in the stadium or trespass on the new stadium construction site.

In Vermont, temperatures in the single digits to low teens didn’t stop ice anglers and snowmobilers from their sport, and young ski jumpers braved the cold as they competed in northern New Hampshire. But 23 skiers and snowboarders had to be rescued in frigid temperatures on Saturday after becoming lost in the backcountry in Killington, Vermont, police said.

On the West Coast, more freezing rain was forecast in the Columbia River Gorge and the area was expected to remain near or below freezing through at least Sunday night. Trees and power lines already coated with ice could topple if they get more, the National Weather Service warned.

“Stay safe out there over the next several days as our region tries to thaw out,” the weather service said. “Chunks of falling ice will remain a hazard as well.”


Associated Press writers David Collins in Hartford, Connecticut, Lisa Rathke in Danville, Vermont, Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi, and Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Florida, contributed to this story.

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Much of US still gripped by arctic weather as Memphis deals with numerous broken water pipes