El Dorado and much of southern Arkansas is in the grips of a cold snap that is not expected to loosen its grip any time in the next few days.
Davyon Hill, a meteorologist in the Shreveport, Louisiana, office of the National Weather Service, said temperatures in the low 20s and teens are not generally common for the area, but it is what’s expected as the area braces for the New Year.
“We do get cold snaps in the winter from time to time,” Hill said. “One to two, possibly even three times per year, where you get lows in the mid to lower 20s is not unusual, but … it’s not common.”
And when it moves to the teens, Hill said it starts getting into near record territory.
Hill said the El Dorado area can expect a low of 31 degrees tonight with a slight chance of rain or wintry mix moving into the area Saturday night and into Sunday morning. Hill noted no significant accumulations are expected, but added that in areas such as El Dorado even a very small accumulation can become a problem.
“It doesn’t take a lot around here to freak everyone out,” Hill said.
For New Year’s Eve, Hill said the area could hit the fourth lowest temperature on record for that date with an expected high of 32 degrees and a low of 16 degrees. Monday, New Year’s Day, could hit the third lowest temperature on record for that date, he said, with a high of 29 and low of 13 expected.
Hill said temperatures are expected to stay below normal into the foreseeable future as he checked the 10-day forecast and noted that all forecasts are subject to change.
The cold snap in the El Dorado area is part of an arctic blast that’s gripping a large swath from the Midwest to the Northeast, where the temperature, without the wind chill factored in, dipped to minus 32 on Thursday morning in Watertown, New York, and set a record for the day of minus 34 atop the Northeast’s highest peak, Mount Washington, in New Hampshire.
Even before the cold snap, the Department of Energy projected that heating costs were going to track upward this winter, and many people are keeping a wary eye on their fuel tanks to ensure they don’t run out.
In western New York and Erie, Pennsylvania, residents were still cleaning up from massive snowfall. Firefighters had to use a bucket loader to rescue someone trapped in her home in Lorraine, New York.
In Ohio, a dog was found frozen solid on the porch of a house in Toledo, and a third body was recovered near a car that slid off an icy road and flipped into a canal days earlier in the city of Oregon.
Despite the cold, there was some good news for recipients of federal aid from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. President Donald Trump released nearly $3 billion, or 90 percent, of the funding in October after previously trying to eliminate the program.
But projected energy cost increases will effectively reduce the purchasing power by $330 million, making it imperative that the remaining funding be released, said Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association.
This winter, energy costs were projected to grow by 12 percent for natural gas, 17 percent for home heating oil, 18 percent for propane and 8 percent for electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
But energy prices this winter may even be higher than those projections. According to Wolfe, colder weather could lead to even higher levels of consumption, and resulting prices could push the cost of winter heating up to $1,800 this winter for those using heating oil, 45 percent more than last year’s level.
On Thursday, cold weather records were set from Arkansas to Maine, and the cold air will linger through the weekend, reaching as far south as Texas and the Florida Panhandle through the weekend.
In northern New England, the region is experiencing one of the longest, most intense cold snaps on record. At Mount Washington, where the previous cold record was minus 31, set in 1933, the observatory posted a Facebook video showing weather observer Adam Gill emptying a pitcher of boiling water into the air, where it immediately turns to snow in the cold and hurricane-force winds.
In the Midwest, temperatures in Minneapolis aren’t expected to top zero this weekend, and it likely will be in the teens when the ball drops on New Year’s Eve in New York City.
With frigid temperatures settling in the area, the El Dorado Water Utilities is urging local residents to take precautions to help protect their water pipes.
Utilities employees said customers may be caught off guard by the early-winter freeze, adding that the EWU typically receives hundreds of reports about water pipes freezing and bursting during the first frost of each year, sometimes causing thousands of dollars in damage.
The EWU offered tips to help safeguard water pipes during bitter cold weather and to monitor freezing pipe conditions.
EWU employees have repeatedly said that the simplest method to minimize freezing is to leave faucets on a slow-drip.
To prevent pipes from freezing, customers can:
• Disconnect all garden hoses and install covers on all outdoor faucets.
• Open cabinet doors below sinks to allow heat from the home to circulate toward pipes.
• Identify the location of the main water valve and the valve on the water heater. Learning the locations of these valves could be useful in an emergency.
• Use pipe insulation or heating tape to wrap pipes near exterior walls and in crawl spaces. This can prevent freezing, particularly for pipes that run along exterior walls.
• Close all windows near water pipes and cover or close open-air vents. Freezing temperatures combined with wind drafts can cause pipes to freeze more frequently.
• Consider weather-sealing windows and heating the basement, if applicable.
• Customers who plan to be away from home for an extended period should shut off water valves to their washing machines.
Residents may monitor freezing pipe conditions by:
• Reducing water flow from the faucet at the first sign of freezing.
• Checking faucets for water flow and pressure before going to sleep and when waking up.
• Checking pipes in areas that tend to be vulnerable to freezing conditions, the space around the water meter, unheated areas, exterior walls and crawl spaces.
• Identifying cold-air drafts from the chimney chase or flue and caulking any gaps near water pipes.
If a pipe freezes inside the house, residents may thaw it by using a good hair dryer. The EWU advises against using hair dryers near standing water.
Frozen pipes may also be warmed and thawed by soaking towels in water heated on the stove and wrapping the hot towels around cold sections of the pipes.
When thawing a water pipe, customers should start in the section of the pipe that is nearest to the faucet and make sure the faucet is on, so melting water can drip out.
In the event a water pipe bursts, residents are urged to shut off the water at the main valve and call a plumber.
If the break occurs in a hot water pipe, close the valve of the water heater, the EWU said.
Information for this article was contributed by David Sharp of the Associated Press.
Madeleine Leroux can be reached at email@example.com or 870-862-6611.
Tia Lyons can be reached at tlyons@ eldoradonews.com or 870-862-6611.