What's bad for residents could be good for business.
As temperatures dropped to subzero levels Tuesday, some area companies noticed a spike in phone calls - some seeking car assistance, others looking for food delivery orders.
Debbie Riggin, director of operations for Papa John's Pizza, said the restaurant's Pleasant Valley Boulevard location was receiving twice as many calls as they do on a normal day, taking more than 50 orders in the first three hours of business.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Smoke rises from chimneys along Second Avenue in Altoona on Tuesday afternoon. An arctic air mass and wind chills caused temperatures to dip well below freezing across much of the country.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Roger Fagan of Reliable Towing uses a battery pack to jump-start a customer’s car along Bellview Avenue on Tuesday.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
A Norfolk Southern track crewman uses kerosene to heat a section of track on Tuesday.
Riggin said it's so cold that many customers don't think Papa John's is willing to use its delivery drivers.
"A lot of people are saying: 'It's too cold. Can you deliver to me?'" she said. "They think we
won't go out."
One driver was having car trouble, Riggin said, but other employees were being called in to handle the orders and were told to stay "bundled up" in the frigid temperatures.
With most schools canceled and several businesses closed or closing early, Riggin said she expected the calls would keep coming until closing time.
"We expect, at this point, to be busy all the way through," she said.
Tony Wei, manager of Great China restaurant along East 25th Avenue, said there may not be more people calling, but many regular customers who normally pick up their orders are asking for delivery.
"A lot of people don't want to go out. It's too cold," he said. "Very cold."
Drivers are extremely busy with the uptick in delivery requests, which jumped from about 20 percent of Great China's business to nearly 50 percent Tuesday.
"We are very busy for delivery," he said.
Motorists who found themselves unable to start their vehicles Tuesday were giving area mechanics extra business, as well.
Jim Della, president of Reliable Towing, Tire & Auto Center in Altoona, said workers responded to more than 40 calls before 1 p.m., almost triple what the company handles on a normal day, beginning at 6 a.m.
Della also said workers dealt with a less-common problem Tuesday, with diesel vehicle operators seeing fuel turn to gel in the tank due to the low temperatures.
"And when the fuel gels up, the vehicle can shut down while it's driving," if it starts at all, he said.
There are additives for diesel and regular gasoline to keep freezing problems to a minimum, Della said, and he recommended that people keep at least a quarter of their fuel tank full to prevent freezing.
Dave Cummings, co-owner of Cummings Motors, said with the improvements made to calls over the last two decades, he saw fewer motorists having fuel-injection problems Tuesday.
"You have very few vehicles now that are flooded," Cummings said.
He said 20 years ago, Cummings Motors would get 75 to 100 calls on a frigid day.
"The batteries went dead because people would flood the car and then crank the car until the battery went dead," Cummings said. "Now with computerization, it has cut down a lot on that."
By Tuesday afternoon, Cummings said he had received only a half-dozen calls for jump-starts.
"You still have your dead batteries and things like that. That will happen," he said, but employees were going out on few jump-start calls.
Cummings said the real problem is not cold but ice.
"That's usually when we see a spike in calls. If you have ice ... ice is really bad," he said. "I don't care how good a driver you are. If you have ice, you're going to have problems."
Della said that even with improved fuel-injection systems, plenty of car batteries not working at "100 percent" were still going dead.
"If your battery is at 30 percent or 50 percent life, [the cold] will pretty much wipe it out," he said.
He also said Reliable provides free battery checks to customers to let them know if their vehicle is in danger of shutting down when the weather gets bad.
"That can eliminate a lot of this stuff happening now," he said.
Not all businesses benefited from the cold.
A notice was posted Tuesday morning on Blue Knob All Seasons Resort's website notifying customers that there would be no skiing for the day.
"It's minus 18 degrees and strong winds," the notice read. "It's not safe to open. We will open at 10 a.m. [today]."