Lisa Roberson and Anna Merriman
It starts with low water pressure in a home or business.
Next, clean water may start bubbling up through a crack in the road. In the most severe cases, water gushes from a crevice in the ground and forms a lake-like puddle that in the winter quickly turns into an icy, slushy mess.
Temperature fluctuations, much like the ones this week as a polar vortex brought Arctic temperatures and sub-zero wind chills to the area, set the stage for water main breaks.
And, right on cue, cities, businesses and homeowners have seen their fair share of breaks.
“The colder weather did break quite a few of the lines, and the Water Distribution Department had their hands full,” said Elyria City Engineer Tim Ujvari.
Since Jan. 2, the city has dealt with 14 main breaks — nine of which have happened since Monday, when the area faced the coldest temperatures in recent years. City officials don’t expect a reprieve anytime soon.
“We are expecting more this week. The ground is going to start moving as it warms up, and the pressure on those pipes will cause breaks,” he said.
Structures’ interior pipes are not immune from breaks due to the cold, either. Since Monday, officials have cautioned residents and business owners to take precautions to prevent water pipes from bursting. The most-common technique involves letting water run constantly in a slight trickle from a faucet to keep it moving and less likely to freeze.
But that doesn’t always mean success.
Affected businesses included the main Lorain National Bank branch in Elyria at 124 Middle Ave. About 4:45 p.m. Thursday, the bank’s lobby doors were open, but the bank was closed for business as a maintenance worker dried leaks.
About 15 breaks were reported around Lorain between Monday night and Thursday afternoon, according to fire Lt. Brian Lempner. He said most were on Wednesday.
“They’re everywhere,” Lempner said. “There’s no rhyme or reason.”
Lempner’s words especially ring true in Vermilion, where an apparent water main break — or breaks — means that residents have had to boil their water before using it. The problem is, no one can find the break.
“It could be one large break or 20 little breaks,” Vermilion Water Plant director Shawn Daley said.
He said that officials saw a decrease in water pressure on Wednesday, which indicated a water main break somewhere inside the city. Workers began looking for the break Wednesday, and when they weren’t able to find it by Thursday afternoon, a Cleveland company was called in to help find and fix the elusive break.
“They’ll be here with more advanced equipment,” Daley said, adding that he expected water plant employees to work through the night to fix the break after they find it. “A lot of cities are experiencing this.”
North Ridgeville was hit hard by the increase in water main breaks.
North Ridgeville Middle School was closed yet again Thursday — students have not returned to school from winter break because of weather and natural gas outages — because of a broken pipe in the school’s boiler room. Water quickly flooded the room and caused damage to the boilers and an electrical panel in the room.
“It happened overnight, and the maintenance staff quickly began assessing the damage,” said Superintendent Jim Powell. “We were not expecting that to be a problem, and we are hoping it’s just temporary.”
Powell said a private contractor was repairing the school’s boiler.
Reporter Evan Goodenow contributed to this story.