Temperatures this month have veered from single-digit to balmy, creating movement in the Altoona Water Authority's pipes and the ground in which they're buried.
This has resulted in almost-daily water main breaks: 24 in the last 22 days, according to Tim Manley, supervisor of water maintenance.
On Wednesday, there was a big break on Union Avenue between Fifth and Sixth avenues, caused by a football-sized blowout in a century-old 8-inch cast iron pipe.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Altoona Highway Department workers repair a water main Wednesday along Union Avenue.
Workers caught a break with the temperature on Wednesday, which was about 48 degrees when a passerby called in an alert around 4 a.m., rising to 62 around noon - by which time the workers were about ready to backfill the hole.
It hasn't been an easy month for authority line crews.
"As you get older, [the cold temperatures] get harder," said Mike Milliron, 52, the distribution foreman at the site in the afternoon.
The break forced the closure of Union Avenue because the churning water undermined the roadway, before a foreman called to the scene shut it off, according to Milliron.
A five-member crew worked on the break, supplemented with two workers flagging traffic, Manley said.
Traffic resumed about 2 p.m., according to PennDOT.
Local customers also caught a break, as the outage only meant that three customers lost service, Milliron said.
There are valves at almost every intersection in the city, and the authority has a grid system of piping, with pressurized water coming from all directions around outage areas, so few customers lose service during most outages, Milliron said.
The rash of breaks has occurred during a period that included four successive days with single-digit lows, beginning Jan. 22, according to National Weather Service data.
By contrast, the temperatures rose above 50 on three successive days beginning Monday.
"Any time there is a drastic change in temperatures," Manley said. "That makes the earth shift."
Workers repaired Wednesday's break with a 5-foot section of ductile iron pipe, connected to the ends of the existing pipe with ductile iron couplers, Manley said.
Employees at the Horseshoe Curve treatment plant actually learned of the break around 3:30 a.m., based on instruments that showed a pressure drop in the area served by the Prospect distribution tank, but they didn't know where, until the passerby's alert, Milliron said.
The Prospect service area runs from East End to Logan Valley Mall, he said.
Fortunately - or unfortunately, depending on one's point of view - the leak ended up being easy to find, if you were a motorist on Union Avenue.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.