Frigid temperatures hit the High Desert, leaving their mark on the community

by: TERESA TOOLEY - A case of soda left on the back deck of a residence froze Thursday night, causing the cans to explode.

In Prineville, on Dec. 8, 1919, the temperature dropped that night to 8 degrees below zero.

The temperature set a record low for that particular day of the year that endured for 94 more years.

Early Sunday morning, it was shattered, as the temperature dipped to a bitterly-cold 17 degrees below zero.

“A low pressure system dropped down from northern Canada that brought a very cold air mass into our area,” explained Diana Hayden, meteorologist for the National Weather Service. “With no other systems coming through, that cold air just sat over our area.”

She added that clear skies and light winds allowed more warm air to escape, further exacerbating the cold snap.

Sunday morning set the record, but it was not the only severely cold night Prineville endured during the past week. Beginning Thursday, Dec. 5, Prineville’s low temperature dropped to 1 degree. Friday was also 1 degree, and Saturday bottomed out at 3 degrees. On Monday, following the record low, Prineville experienced another sub-zero night with a low of 6 below zero.

The multiple days of single-digit and below-zero temperatures left their mark on the community, most notably its water pipes.

On Sunday afternoon, a Crook County Library staff member came down to the facility and discovered a small flood on the floor. Turns out the cold weather caused a half-inch diameter copper water pipe to freeze and burst in the ceiling.

“There was probably an inch of water in an 800-square-foot area as you walk in the door,” said Crook County Maintenance Director Greg Hinshaw. “We sucked it all up. We had to run fans and move furniture.”

The incident was a first for the library, and Library Director Camille Wood was grateful that it didn’t turn out worse.

“We were very fortunate that our staff member happened to come in on a Sunday,” she said. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t have discovered this until Monday morning and I don’t even know what sort of damage we would have had at that point.”

The library wasn’t the only location that fell prey to property damage. Local plumber Rob Hulett said he received about 45 calls for burst pipes during a three-day stretch of the cold snap, nearly triple the normal amount.

He noted that as cold as it got, the damaged plumbing could have been prevented.

“The biggest thing is people need to keep heat under their houses,” Hulett said. “A lot of people forget to close (foundation vents). You need to make sure your crawl space is pretty air tight. Once in a while, it doesn’t hurt to put a little heater underneath in your crawl space, as long as it is going to be safe.”

For Crook County Fire and Rescue, the cold weather will most likely affect them in the coming days as the weather warms back up.

“What we get is a lot of false alarms,” said Casey Kump, CCFR deputy chief. “The biggest issue we are going to see is people’s businesses’ sprinkler systems freeze and then when it thaws, we’ll get a flow alarm.”

CCFR has already gone out on several service calls that turned out to be false alarms, one of which Kump said was a school.

“What it comes down to sometimes is improper insulation around the water lines,” he said.

For Prineville, the recent string of days with single-digit or below-zero temperatures is not unheard of. Hayden noted that the recent stretch fails to crack the area’s all-time top 10.

By the same token, she considers it a noteworthy occasion — something that only happens once in a while.

“We will have those occasional years where it gets really cold,” she said.