The Great Columbus Sub-Zero Water Main Break Of 2014 — An Update

I drove to work this morning fully expecting to find closed roads and skating rink conditions still in downtown Columbus due to yesterday’s water main break. To my astonishment, however, the roads were open and the water main break had been fixed.

IMG_1672How did this come about? A Herculean work effort under ridiculously bad conditions by the City of Columbus Water Department workers, who somehow plugged the breach overnight. They were still out this morning, using a backhoe to break up the asphalt on Fourth Street. By this afternoon they had dug a deep, square hole so that they could get at the root cause of the break. Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel couldn’t have done better — and the Water Department workers were doing the job on a day when the temperature didn’t get above the single digits and the wind chill was below zero.

Working in water-logged conditions on such a frigid day must have been terrible. On behalf of all downtown workers who avoided a frustrating traffic snarl due to road closures, I want to say “thanks” to the hard-working folks at the Water Department who pulled off a seeming miracle.

Oh, and there was one other component to the miracle: salt. Lots and lots of salt, and de-icing granules, and every other ice-melting substance known to modern man. I’m not sure how much salt was dumped on the roads and alleys and sidewalks near the intersection of Fourth and Gay Street in the last 36 hours — a ton? two tons? — but there was a coating of salt still visible today, and the salt runoff had leached all color out of the roads and sidewalks. Since I would prefer salt-colored by dry conditions to risking a bad fall on icy sidewalks, that was just fine with me.

The Great Columbus Sub-Zero Water Main Break Of 2014

Extreme cold apparently can wreak havoc on municipal infrastructure. At least, that is the conclusion I’m drawing from the fact that a water main broke in downtown Columbus today, after the temperature outside fell below zero.

IMG_1666Unfortunately, the water main break occurred between the office and where I now park my car. As I walked on my normal route to my parking spot, I saw police cars and other emergency vehicles blocking access. I also saw rivers of water running, sluggishly, down Fourth Street and Gay Street and Long Street and the alleys in the vicinity and turning into ice. And, because it was windy, water was being sprayed everywhere, leaving sidewalks sheathed in an icy blanket.

I had to give the area of the water main break a wide berth to get to my car. This meant I was exposing my face to sub zero temperatures for longer than might be advisable, but since that was the only way to avoid tromping through water and ice and being sprayed with freezing water on a bitterly cold day, it seemed like the most prudent course.

IMG_1670When I finally got to my car, my face felt like a block of ice and the temperature showing on the car’s external thermometer was six below zero. Even running the heater at full blast, it took the interior of the car about ten minutes to warm up.

Now I can only hope that the break gets fixed by tomorrow morning, and that they somehow figure out how to clear the streets of a river of ice before rush hour hits. I wonder, though: how can you fix a water main break when the temperature outside is 6 below zero, and it is supposed to get even colder overnight?

A Cold Day’s Return

Today I go back to work after a wonderful two-week vacation with Kish and the boys. Apparently Old Man Winter wanted to make sure that I knew that the holiday’s over.

IMG_5778When we were in Paris and London, we got a lot of rain, but for the most part the temperature stayed in the 40s and 50s. One day we had dinner with a twenty-something British friend and, during a conversation about the weather over our meal, she mentioned that she hasn’t seen any appreciable snow on the ground in her home town since she was 4 years old. She lives in the southern part of England, and apparently snow is a rarity there — even though England is at a more northern latitude than Columbus, where snow is a commonplace occurrence during the winter.

When I woke up in New Albany today snow was falling and the temperature was 25 degrees according to my phone. When I went for the morning walk it was already down to 19 degrees and you could feel the temperature dropping faster than the early season hopes of a Cleveland Browns fan. And, with a sharp wind blowing, Jack Frost wasn’t just nipping at my nose — it felt like he wanted to rip my face off. As I walked gingerly on ice-covered walkways to avoid a slip, a salt truck rumbled by, with the salt crystals whirling out behind. The current forecast is for temperatures to fall all day and reach the point of 7 below zero tonight, with a wind chill factor of 32 below.

Yes, I’m home, and it’s time to get back to work.

The Wind Chill Factor

This morning in New Albany the temperature is 10 degrees Fahrenheit, coupled with a 21 mph wind.  That means we’ve got a wind chill factor of -15 degrees, and a severe weather alert on the iPhone weather app.

Those are just numbers, however.  People who live in warmer climates may wonder:  what does it mean when the wind chill factor is 15 below zero?

It means that when you walk outside, your eyes water from the intense cold and the tears freeze to your cheeks.

It means that you walk with your head angled downward, hoping that the top of your head will cut into the breeze like the prow of a ship.

It means that everything in your nose freezes, leaving your nostrils clogged with sharp little bricks and nuggets, while at the same time your sinuses drain and fill your mouth with a sludgy, slimy, ever-replenishing reservoir of phlegm.

It means that every inch of exposed skin feels scoured and brittle and inflamed and raw, all at the same time.

It means that your neighbors should be especially appreciative of your resolve to pick up dog poop, because when you remove your glove to do the dirty deed you are ensuring that the hand will remain stiff with cold until you get back inside.

It’s not a pretty picture.  But it also means that, when you finally do escape the cold, and feel the tingle in your cheeks and ears as the warmth returns, you are grateful for a working furnace, and that hot cup of freshly brewed coffee tastes awfully good.

Weird Weather

IMG_2997We’ve just come from a week of exceptionally cold temperatures, which followed a few days of unseasonably warm weather.  This morning it was bracing on our walk, with the temperature in the teens and a brisk wind skirling over the snow and dropping the wind chill into “don’t take your gloves off under any circumstances” territory.  According to the weather app on my iPhone, however, the temperature is supposed to be 61 on Tuesday and 55 on Wednesday — and then it will plummet back down to a high of 19 on Friday.  Good luck deciding what kind of coat to wear this week!

I don’t mind cold weather, and I don’t mind warm weather, either.  I just wish Mother Nature would make up her mind!

The Password Is . . .

IMG_2954Webner House readers of a certain age will recall the TV game show Password.  Hosted by Allen Ludden, the show featured contestants teamed with celebrities — one of whom always seemed to be Ludden’s wife, Betty White — who then had to get their teammates to say the “password” without saying the word itself.  The password always was disclosed to the TV audience by the breathlessly whispered phrase:  “The password is . . . .”

From my vantage point in one of the office buildings in Cleveland, I look out over partially frozen Lake Erie to the power plant in the distance, with condensation and smoke billowing from the smokestack, pushed by a stiff breeze and starkly visible against the cloudy gray sky, and I think:  “The password is . . . tundra.”  Or:  “The password is . . . frigid.”  Or:  “The password is [insert your choice of word depicting deep, bone-chilling cold].”

Craving The Carib

IMG_2706It’s cold here, and next week it’s supposed to get even colder.  I wish I were down in the Caribbean, with toes in the sand and a cold beverage in a wet, beaded glass in hand, looking out on sailboats moving languidly across the blue water!

As a noted philosopher once observed, however:  You can’t always get what you want.

Sledding Debris

IMG_2814One of the prime sledding hills in New Albany near Club Drive, next to the tee of number one North, has been getting a workout.  There’s lots of snow on the ground, and it’s been packed down to a hard consistency.  The hill isn’t too high, but just high enough to achieve significant, uncontrolled velocity as the sledder pushes off at the peak and then goes rocketing down the slope and ultimately knocks into the fence so far below.

Of course, the combination of the occasional collision with the body heat generated by overbundled kids constantly trudging up the slippery slope means we’ll see sledding debris — and we do.  Bits of cheap plastic sled that have cracked in the cold and broken off, a scarf removed, placed on a fence, and then promptly forgotten, and especially wool hats that little boys take off when they get overheated and leave on the hill with a shrug.

When the owner of this kid’s stocking cap went home, his aggravated Mom undoubtedly noticed his hat was missing, and wondered:  How in the heck can you forget about your winter hat when it’s 25 degrees out?  Those of us who once were little boys on a sledding hill remember, and know well the answer to that question.


There’s no mistaking it — it’s cold this morning!  The temperature is in the 30s, steam is rising from the neighborhood ponds, and the landscape is starting to get that washed-out look you associate with late fall and (shudder) early winter.

I’m not ready for winter yet!  I’m not ready for the flowers to die, and snowflakes to fall!  Can’t we have a real autumn, with some Indian summer mixed in, first?

Our First Cold Morning In Months

This morning — only a day or so before the official start of autumn — we had our first cold morning in many months.

The last few weeks we’ve moved gradually from hot, sweaty, shorts and t-shirt mornings to cooler, pleasant, long pants and long-sleeved shirts mornings.  This morning, with the temperature hovering around a bracing 40 degrees, I had to break out my favorite hooded sweatshirt for the first time — and I needed it, too.

The night skies were clear and the stars blazed, and it was as if the warmth had been sucked from the world.  Water vapor billowed from the surfaces of the darkened ponds and creeks into the brisk air as we walked past, and we were just on the edge of frost on the ground and visible breath.  I felt the familiar sensation of numbing cold creep into the tip of my nose, my exposed ears, and my fingers.

As we neared the end of the walk, I looked forward with anticipation to a piping hot cup of black coffee.  We get accustomed to the heat, and then we get accustomed to the cold.  A steaming cup of coffee helps.

The Definitive Winter Comfort Food Meal

Let’s say you are 10 years old on a cold winter’s day.  For hours, you’ve been sledding with your brother and your friends in the neighborhood.  Your stocking cap is soaked with sweat and a while ago one of your friends put snow down your back that has long since turned to an ever-present, icy wetness.  Then you hear the dinner bell your Mom rang to call the kids in your family to dinner.  You grab the rope to your Flexible Flyer and start the long trudge home, pulling the sled behind you.  And as you walk, you start to think about what your Mom might be serving for dinner and begin hoping that it will be your favorite winter meal.

In my case, the favorite winter meal was tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.  The tomato soup was Campbell’s, of course, and made with “whole milk.”  (I’m not even sure they had skim milk or 2% milk or the other milk options in those days.)  The soup was served piping hot with lots of crumbled saltine crackers to make it even more fortifying.  The sandwiches were made with Kraft American cheese on Wonder bread that was lightly buttered on the outside then grilled so that the bread was browned and crunchy and the cheese was perfectly melted and oozed when you took your first bite.  The sandwiches were served hot and were cut diagonally, the better to facilitate dipping the sandwich into the steaming soup.  Mom would call it a “nourishing meal.”  I just thought it tasted great.  This was a meal that never disappointed!

Last night we had tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, and the meal is still as good as I remember it.  There were some differences, of course.  We don’t buy “whole milk” anymore, so the soup was made with 2% milk, and I haven’t eaten Wonder Bread in decades, so the sandwiches were made with whole wheat bread.  But the soup was still Campbell’s, and it tasted as rich and warming and creamy as ever.  The toasted and grilled sandwiches still had the satisfying crunch and the melty goodness, and sinking part of the sandwich into the soup and taking a bite still yielded one of the the greatest taste combinations ever.

In my book, this is the definitive winter comfort food meal.

Ode To A Fur Hat

When the temperature gets down to the single digits or below, the Mad Bomber fur hat is taken from the closet and worn with grateful appreciation.  On even the iciest days it keeps my head warm on our morning walks.  As Penny and I were strolling during this past weekend’s cold snap, I was moved to compose this bit of doggerel:

Ode To A Fur Hat

My winter hat, I hold you dear

On frigid days I know no fear

Your ear flaps hang, low and bold

And shield my ears from awful cold

Those icy days you heat my head

As if I were still snug in bed

Your feel is warm and richly furr’d

Who cares If I look like a nerd?