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Originally published December 8, 2009 at 12:07 AM | Page modified December 8, 2009 at 12:16 AM

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Cold snap likely won't end before weekend

It's really cold. And it's going to be that way for at least a few days.

Seattle Times staff reporter

How to prevent frozen pipes

FRIGID TEMPERATURES can cause one of winter's worst woes — frozen water pipes. But property owners can take this simple advice, from the city of Everett's Public Works Department, to prevent the inconvenience and expense.

• Disconnect hoses.

• Insulate outside pipes and faucets.

• Insulate inside pipes and faucets in cold areas such as unheated attics, basements, garages and crawl spaces.

• Drain irrigation systems.

• Caulk around incoming pipes.

• Close or block foundation vents. (Remember to open them again in the spring to prevent rot.)

• Locate your master water shut-off valve and test it. If a pipe does break, damage can be minimized if you stop the flow of water quickly.

• Never shut off your heat completely. If you plan to leave your home or business for an extended period and you don't drain your pipes, you should lower the thermostat but never shut it off. The lack of heat can freeze the pipes in walls and the basement. If you do drain your pipes, be sure to turn off your water heater first.

• Open cupboard doors under sinks on outside walls so pipes are exposed to inside heat.

If your pipes do freeze

CALL A LICENSED PLUMBER if your pipes freeze. If you locate the frozen section of pipe and try to thaw it yourself, be sure to take the following precautions to protect yourself and your property:

• Do not use an open flame. You risk setting your property on fire, and overheating one area can cause the pipe to burst.

• Place a warm towel or rag around the pipe.

• Make sure you know the location of your master shut-off valve. The frozen pipe may already be broken and, when the water is thawed, it will leak. In this case you will need to shut off the water in your home or business until the leaky pipe is fixed.

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The freezing temperatures that sent a piercing chill through the Puget Sound area weren't enough to thwart mechanics such as those at Seattle's 7th Avenue Auto, who labored through oil changes and tire rotations in largely unheated garages.

As he drained the oil from a car hoisted six feet in the air, one worker wore a half-dozen layers that made him look inordinately chubby beneath his signature blue shirt. But like shop owner Pat Abe, who poked under the hood of a customer's car nearby, his hands were minimally covered, with a pair of thin gloves.

"It's pretty hard to control your fingers in the cold," said Abe, who wore two pairs of socks but, in the interests of full dexterity, no gloves. "But I've been doing it for so long, I guess I'm used to it."

On Monday, the temperature topped out at 30 degrees, and the next few days won't be much warmer. Today's high is expected to be in the lower 30s, and Wednesday's and Thursday's slightly higher, but it's the lows that will really bite, approaching 16 degrees in the Seattle area.

"We've been running 10 degrees below normal since Friday, give or take," said National Weather Service forecaster Dennis D'Amico. The normal high for this time of year is 46, the normal minimum 37.

"Our high is not even going to reach our normal minimal temperature," he said.

The relatively dry weather system means the earliest chance of snow won't come until Friday, when at least some moisture is expected to return to the region. The weather service predicts a slight chance of snow flurries that day, but by the weekend temperatures should hit the 40s.

The cold has prompted expanded emergency-shelter offerings throughout the region, including "severe weather shelters" in Bremerton, Port Orchard and Kent, where Kent Lutheran Church opened its doors primarily to homeless families with children.

The iceboxlike conditions set in this past weekend as Arctic air trapped over the Yukon Range moved south, reinforcing cold temperatures already in place. That, coupled with an uncommon stream of air currents drawn to the west from the even colder Cascades, contributed to a bone-chilling blast.

The system was notable for its dryness, University of Washington meteorologist Cliff Mass noted.

Extremely low dew points meant that local residents escaped the task of scraping frost from their windshields Monday morning.

"The lack of frost is good," Mass said. "People don't talk about it, but the number-one weather killer is not winds, or floods. It's ice in the roadway."

Despite the low temperatures, record lows have floated just out of reach. Even this morning's expected low of 16 wouldn't supplant the Dec. 8 record of 13.

Meanwhile, mechanics maintained their mettle. At the University Village-area Jiffy Lube, mechanics kept a brisk pace, moving from one car to the next, the activity a protection against the cold.

"This is Seattle," agreed 7th Avenue Auto's Abe. "It's not Alaska. It could be worse."

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