Thursday, December 28, 2000

Cold streak approaches record

'It's a crisis out there'

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Mirror Lake in Eden Park has frozen enough to permit skating for the first time in three years.
| ZOOM |
(Tony Jones photo)
        It's not the coldest December ever, but it's getting there.

        With Wednesday's high at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport reaching 24 degrees, the area has gone 10 days without breaking the freezing mark.

        The forecast calls for more of the same over the next two weeks, meaning the Tristate could tie the 1989 record of 14 straight December days of subfreezing temperatures.

        This December is one of the five coldest on record in terms of average temperatures, said meteorologist Shannon White of the National Weather Serv ice's Wilmington office.

        Through Tuesday, the average temperature was 24.3 degrees, compared with a normal average of 33.5 degrees.

        It's been cold long enough, for example, for Cincinnati park officials to allow ice skating on Mirror Lake in Eden Park, while other ponds were thickening as well.

        “This is a normal weather pattern, but it's just hitting us with cold earlier than normal,” said Ms. White.

        Frank Jones, 51, became the cold snap's first casualty, apparently by using his gas stove to keep his Mount Auburn apartment warm. He was found dead

        Wednesday morning, likely of carbon monoxide poisoning, investigators said.

        The death prompted city officials to warn against using a stove for heat.

  We should get 1-4 inches starting Friday afternoon.
  • Tristate's normal December average temperature: 33.5
  • Tristate's current December average: 24.3*
  • Tristate's coldest December on record: 1989**
  • Lowest temperature reached in December: minus 20 (Dec. 22, 1989)
  • Last time Ohio River froze over: January 1978 (hydrologists say it takes several weeks of temperatures between 0-20 degrees Fahrenheit to start the process.)
  * Through Dec. 26 (temperatures taken at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport)
  ** Six of the month's record low temperatures were set in this year.
  • Forecast and current conditions
  • Some steps to warm up your home
  • Cold, hard facts about the freeze
        “The fumes that normally go out of the chimney come into the house,” said Bill Offutt, a city housing inspector. “A stove doesn't put out as much as a furnace, but the furnace is vented to the outside.”

        Mr. Offutt also cautioned against letting a car run in an attached garage. Back it outside, he said, because the fumes can seep from the garage into the house.

        The cold's other effects in the Tristate have included:

        • Higher natural gas bills.

        • Stalled cars.

        • Broken water pipes and mains.

        Natural gas bills are more than double the normal, thanks to increased demand and an unstable energy market.

        That means a financial crunch for many who are struggling with post-Christmas bills, such as Julia Burns of Winton Hills.

        “Normally my bill is $150 during the winter, and this month it was more than $300, even with us turning the heat down and wearing sweaters and sleeping with a lot of blankets,” said Ms. Burns, 27, who lives in a two-story townhouse with her 7-year-old son. “And I've got to pay it, so other bills like the car note and phone bill might get paid late or not for a month.”

        Cinergy spokesman Dave Woodburn said Wednesday that the current market price for natural gas is the equivalent of a $90 barrel of crude oil.

        The company supplies gas to about 500,000 customers in the Tristate, and has asked permis sion from public utilities commissions in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana to raise prices twice in the past month. Normally, Cinergy asks for price adjustments every three months.

        In December 1999 and January 2000, the average house paid $153.81. Based on normal use, the estimates for this December and next month are $205.11 and $246.76, respectively. And that doesn't consider the colder-than-average temperatures.

        The amount of heating degree-days this month — a gauge how much energy is needed to keep a building at 65 degrees — is 32 percent higher than normal.

        “It's like a crisis out there,” said Mr. Woodburn, who blamed the higher prices on a lack of supply and increased demand during the summer. “When it gets colder, the price goes up, and most people expect that. But this is something different, not to mention the fact that that it's colder than normal.”

        Herbert Walker, manager of emergency services for the Hamilton County Community Action Agency, a nonprofit agency that helps low-income families through a federal grant, says his firm's emergency heat program has had more than 4,000 applicants since it started Nov. 1.

        About 1,500 families apply through December in a typical year, Mr. Walker said, adding that the agency helped a total of 5,000 families last year.

        In addition, Mr. Walker said he's seen an increase in families that earn more than the maximum allowed by the program applying for aid.

        “We're trying to use private donations for those folks,” Mr. Walker said.

        Jane Prendergast contributed.

Forecast and current conditions
Some steps to warm up your home
Cold, hard facts about the freeze

- Cold streak approaches record
Some steps to warm up your home
Cold, hard facts about the freeze
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