San Juan Islands dip into record-breaking temps

Last week, the San Juan Islands dropped to frigid temperatures, getting down to 10 degrees. The chilled air left the islands with snow, icy roads, frozen pipes and water shortages.

According to the San Juan Island National Park Service’s website, “Winter daytime temperatures are usually in the upper 30s to low to mid 40s, with nighttime temperatures slightly above freezing. Although the thermometer will drop below freezing, with subsequent hard frosts, it rarely falls below the mid to upper 20s.”

Brendan Cowan, Director of the San Juan County Department of Emergency Management, said the islands tend to suffer from power outages when cold snaps come around. He thanked OPALCO for its hard work. The weather is not only out of the ordinary but has left many islanders waterless.

A press release submitted by the Town of Friday Harbor stated, “Water levels in the water storage tanks in Town are dangerously low and the Town is therefore imposing an immediate water rationing order and may later need to initiate planned service outages to maintain service. …. The Town Water Plant is running at full capacity and is unable to keep up with the water loss we are experiencing.”

The cold snap has caused pipes to freeze in houses and buildings around the county that have never encountered the issue before. With damaged pipes, the leaks in systems county-wide are causing a large uptick in water usage.

“We ask everyone to check their houses, inside and out to make sure they don’t have burst pipes that could significantly increase your water bill and cause extensive damage to your house,” according to the Town of Friday Harbor.

The letter also explained that vacation and rental properties are the most susceptible. While the island has been short-staffed in many departments county-wide, plumbers around the island have stated that they cannot get any work done until temperatures are above freezing.

Eastsound Water Users Association released a statement with advice on how to deal with frozen pipes and how to keep the issue at bay.

It recommends keeping extra jugs of water on hand since there have been multiple reports of water lines freezing; keeping a drip going in the pipes with one pipe dripping cold water and one pipe dripping hot water; turning the heat up at night; turning off the water service at empty homes before the thaw comes; checking on neighboring empty vacation homes; keeping an eye out for unusual puddles of water and disconnecting garden hoses as they are often also a culprit of freezing pipes.

“Though the islands have a relatively temperate climate compared to many places, winter weather is a regular part of island life and tends to bring out the best of our community,” Cowan said. “Neighbors care for neighbors, our collective self-sufficiency and resiliency pays off, and islanders show patience and understanding with the disruption. And through it all, we make a mental list of what we might do differently or improve for the next time the snow falls or the temperature drops.”