Record-breaking cold parks buses, bursts pipes

Fuel won’t flow in La Pine buses; water soaks Tumalo classroom

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin

An arctic airmass brought frigid weather to Central Oregon over the past week, culminating in a weekend with subzero temperatures that left some sorting out the damage Monday.

Chief among them was the custodial and maintenance crew at Tumalo Community School, where the cold weather burst water pipes in a science classroom, said Justin Nicklous, principal at the school. The school serves kindergartners to eighth-graders and has 409 students. A kindergarten teacher who happened to stop by the school Sunday discovered water shooting out of a cabinet in the classroom after seeing water puddling in a hallway.

The water, a mix of hot and cold, was an inch deep in the science classroom and spread into a neighboring small classroom as well as the hallway. Nicklous said the school had been running its heating system at night since last Tuesday in an effort to avoid such a situation, but it was no match for the cold.

“I think it was that negative 20 something (degrees) that got us,” he said.

The chill broke and matched records for cold in Bend over the weekend, said Ann Adams, assistant forecaster for the National Weather Service in Pendleton. Data from a weather station at the Bend Public Works Department building near Pilot Butte showed the low Saturday was minus 7 degrees, beating the previous record low of minus 5 set Dec. 7, 1956. The low Sunday was minus 15, tying the record from 1972.

Monday morning was just as chilly, also at minus 15, Adams said, but it was still 5 degrees warmer than the record low of minus 20 for Dec. 9 in Bend set in 1972.

The cold snap of 1972 is pretty comparable to the recent cold, which brought snow to typically mild parts of Oregon and subzero temperatures to Central Oregon, said Kathie Dello, deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University.

“It’s been decades since we’ve seen something like this,” she said.

The low in Bend was below zero for four out of five days from Thursday to Monday, according to the National Weather Service, and even colder in other parts of Central Oregon. The Redmond Airport had lows of minus 24 Saturday, minus 27 Sunday and minus 10 Monday. The Saturday low at the airport was a new record for the date, according to Weather Service data, besting the previous record low of minus 11 set in 1972. A record low temperature was also set in Madras on Monday, with minus 15 beating the previous record of minus 4 for the date set in 2009.

It was cold south of Bend, too. Adams said a weather spotter near La Pine reported a low of minus 32 Sunday.

Frozen plumbing Monday caused the La Pine Library to close for the day, according to the Deschutes Public Library system. The cold didn’t slow the La Pine Rural Fire Protection District over the weekend, which responded to a pair of fires, broken water pipes at Deschutes Roadhouse Restaurant, the Academy at Sisters boarding school on Burgess Road, and Little Deschutes River Lodge, and a leaking propane tank at Gordy’s Truck Stop. On Monday morning, La Pine firefighters responded to another fire, this one on Riverview Drive. The temperature at the time of the fire was minus 17, according to firefighters.

Firefighters with the Bend Fire Department also contended with the chill Monday morning as they fought a shed fire that spread partially into a home on Bowery Lane near U.S. Highway 97 north of town. Electric heat tape wrapped around a rubber hose and then covered with insulation and a rug appeared to have overheated or failed, causing the fire, according to the fire department The fire completely destroyed the shed, causing about $30,000 in damage.

The low temperatures in La Pine, which is typically colder than Bend due to its higher elevation, prompted Bend-La Pine Schools on Monday to call off classes in La Pine and Sunriver. Denice Blake, director of transportation for the district, said the cold caused biodiesel mixed in with the diesel in many of the buses at the La Pine bus barn to turn to a gel, clogging fuel lines and filters.

In Bend on Monday, district school bus drivers were able to get their buses going, but Blake said they found many of the buses were stuck to the ground. The combination of snow in town Friday with the cold weather over the weekend created the predicament.

“We had to take some blow torches and heat the ground up around the buses,” Blake said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, .