With the much discussed “Polar Vortex” sweeping through the East End last week, the two-day span of single-digit temperatures wreaked havoc on residential, commercial and even municipal water pipes throughout the area.
The most notable sign of just how cold it got? The water main that provides all the fresh water to Dune Road restaurants in Hampton Bays froze over on Thursday, January 9, according to Rob King, superintendent of the Hampton Bays Water District. In order to provide water, the town followed its preplanned fail-safe and ran a temporary, insulated water main over the top of the Ponquogue Bridge.
Mr. King said this is the first time the public water main, installed in 2006, has ever frozen over, but that given the time of year, it didn’t cause too many headaches.
“There isn’t a lot of consumption this time of year, with just the one restaurant open, so the less water going through the pipe, the more of a chance it is going to freeze over,” he said. “We’ve taken measures to make sure it won’t happen again in the near future.”
In Southampton, the volunteer fire department responded to a whopping 35 calls over last weekend from automatic alarms—all related to the freezing temperatures, according to firefighters on the scene Monday morning at Chase Bank in Southampton Village. All employees and patrons of the building were evacuated, only to be told minutes later that, like many of the other calls, the automatic alarm was from a steam leak related to the cold.
In East Hampton, Fire Chief Tom Bono said his department responded to about 13 similar calls. In Westhampton Beach, Chief John Bancroft reported eight total cold-related automatic alarms, as well as a number of car accidents from black ice.
“This one house on Dune Road, I felt so bad for the guy,” Chief Bancroft said. “I don’t know for sure, but I would say that house is ruined. It really had a lot of water flowing through it.”
And in Bridgehampton, Fire Chief Gary Horsburgh also reported about 15 to 20 calls from automatic alarms over the weekend.
“Everyone worries when the temperature drops, but it is the next few days, when everything thaws, when everything hits the fan,” he said.
In addition to the strain on the area municipalities, area plumbers surveyed also reported an increase in calls for flooded basements—the product of a thawed-out residential water main.
“We had at least a dozen calls in the days after that Polar Vortex,” said Rob Essay of Essay Plumbing in Southampton. “We had this one house over the weekend where the sink, the washing machine, everything was under water. I was sloshing around the basement in waders.”