Executive Briefings

'Not Built for This': What Fails in the Extreme Cold? Just About Everything.

You can’t fight fire with ice. That’s a frozen fact that public safety officials are grappling with as extreme cold continues to grip Washington and much of the rest of the country this week.

Broken water mains make fire hydrants weak. The water that firefighters carry on their trucks can freeze. Pumps lock up. Firefighters fall down.

“You see people trip on hose lines during sunny days, much less add ice, too,” said Northern Virginia firefighter Chris Kamienski at Arlington’s Station 1 Wednesday.

Plumbers have their own low-temp truisms (pipes burst), as do drivers (batteries fail), engineers (metal breaks) and doctors (joints ache from cold, bones crack from falls). It’s all the toll of the cold. When the air gets down near zero, parts fail and people despair. From freight rails to frost bite, a deep freeze can mean deep trouble for a city — and a species — built to operate at more temperate temperatures.

Meteorology has become a doomsday science. Bomb cyclone? Polar vortex? What happened to scattered flurries?

“When things get very cold, things change,” John Jarrell, president of Materials Science Associates in Rhode Island. “The nature of materials change, and the systems we’ve designed to operate at normal temperatures are stressed.”

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Broken water mains make fire hydrants weak. The water that firefighters carry on their trucks can freeze. Pumps lock up. Firefighters fall down.

“You see people trip on hose lines during sunny days, much less add ice, too,” said Northern Virginia firefighter Chris Kamienski at Arlington’s Station 1 Wednesday.

Plumbers have their own low-temp truisms (pipes burst), as do drivers (batteries fail), engineers (metal breaks) and doctors (joints ache from cold, bones crack from falls). It’s all the toll of the cold. When the air gets down near zero, parts fail and people despair. From freight rails to frost bite, a deep freeze can mean deep trouble for a city — and a species — built to operate at more temperate temperatures.

Meteorology has become a doomsday science. Bomb cyclone? Polar vortex? What happened to scattered flurries?

“When things get very cold, things change,” John Jarrell, president of Materials Science Associates in Rhode Island. “The nature of materials change, and the systems we’ve designed to operate at normal temperatures are stressed.”

Read Full Article