How do the 80,000+ residents of Duluth do it? How do they steel themselves to deal with day after day of brutal, invasive cold, skin scorched raw by frigid air, and frozen scarves, stocking caps, and balaclavas. How do they face the mass amounts of snowfall, constant use of snow blowers and snow shovels, and looking out over a gray, frozen lake? What tricks or secrets could Duluthers teach the rest of us to help us maintain a positive outlook in the face of winter’s onslaught?
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.
How 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.
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.
Unfortunately, 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.
When 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?